These are key facts about the vote:
WHO IS BEING ELECTED?
Voters will choose 275 members of a national assembly, whose key task will be to debate and approve a new constitution. It will also oversee a new government to succeed the interim administration appointed in June by the U.S.-led occupation authority in consultation with the United Nations. The assembly is intended to be dissolved and a new parliament elected according to the new constitution by the end of 2005.
In addition, elections are planned for local assemblies as well as to the autonomous Kurdish parliament in the north.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
All Iraqis over 18 on January 1 can vote -- perhaps some 15 million of an estimated population of 26 million. All those with a valid ration card -- relics of U.N. sanctions -- can vote and have until December 15 to amend details of their registration.
This is a single, national ballot, without constituencies so voters are expected to have a choice of polling stations, including some consulates abroad. They will cast one vote for a list of candidates put forward by a party or group of parties.
Seats will be allocated by proportional representation. So a list that wins, say, 20 percent of the vote will receive 55 seats, attributed to the top 55 names on its list of candidates.
WHO IS STANDING?
By the closing date of November 20, at least 90 parties had been registered and dozens more applications were being processed.
Many parties are in negotiations to put up combined, multi- party candidate lists.
Official campaigning begins on December 15.
Most parties reflect sectarian and ethnic divides. Shi'ite Muslims, the long-oppressed 60-percent majority, are likely to back Shi'ite parties, some overtly religious, others secular. Kurds, accounting for 10-15 percent of Iraqis, mostly back one of two big Kurdish parties. Sunni Arabs, about 20 percent of the population, dominated Saddam's and earlier administrations and some Sunni parties have called for an election boycott.
WILL IT HAPPEN?
The United Nations, bombed out of Iraq by a guerrilla attack on its Baghdad headquarters in August 2003, has sent a small team of technical advisers but fears the Sunni insurgency poses a threat to holding a ballot in some areas.
The U.S. military has ousted insurgents from their bastion in Falluja, west of Baghdad, but guerrilla attacks continue.