MARGARET WARNER: The eyes of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi are everywhere, peering out at the electorate from campaign posters like these. Allawi is just one of more than 7,000 candidates who've combined into more than 100 coalition slates for the national election on Sunday.
Their campaign banners and signs line numerous streets across the country. The Iraqi Election Commission says 14 million people are eligible to take part. And in many areas, there's excitement at their first free election in at least 50 years.
MAN ( Translated): Definitely we will go to the election. I consider this Election Day is a very important one. I've been waiting for this day for a long time.
MARGARET WARNER: Iraqi officials say 14 of the country's 18 provinces are generally secure. But some 40 percent of Iraq's 25 million people live in the four dangerous provinces. Among them: Baghdad province-- a volatile mix of Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Kurds; and Al Anbar Province in the West, a Sunni stronghold where conditions are so dangerous that voters are being given the option of registering and voting on the same day.
Iraqis who do take part may vote for only one of the 111 slates on the national ballot. The individual candidates' names are not even listed. The percentage of the vote that each slate receives will determine how many seats that slate gets in the new 275-member transitional national assembly. There's no reliable polling, but some slates have emerged as the most prominent.
Among them: The United Iraqi Alliance, widely identified with leading Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, though he is not a candidate; the Iraqi List, headed by Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite; the Independent Iraqi Democrats Movement, a secular list led by former foreign minister Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni; Iraqiyun, headed by interim President Ghazi al Yawar, also a Sunni; and the Kurdish Alliance, combining the two main Kurdish political parties of Masud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. Shiites are 60 percent of the population and are expected to turn out in large numbers. Strong turnout is also expected from the 15 to 20 percent who are Kurds.
But the formerly dominant Sunni Arabs, who make up another 20 percent, have been urged by prominent clerics and Sunni insurgents to boycott. And many Sunnis say they will.
MAN IN FALLUJAH (Translated): I am saying to the government and Americans, the people of Fallujah will not be voting in the election. We will take revenge. Our children will take revenge and nobody can defeat us.
MARGARET WARNER: The transitional national assembly will have two main jobs: To appoint a transitional executive branch and to draft a new constitution by Aug. 15. The constitution is supposed to be put to a referendum by Oct. 15, and if it's approved, there will be new elections by Dec.15 for a fully independent Iraqi government. Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld cautioned that even getting from Sunday's election to a functioning transitional national assembly will take some time.
DONALD RUMSFELD: There's a period of ambiguity who's going to be in the government. And then, after it's certified, they seat the assembly, the transitional national assembly, and then they get organized.
And that's another period of weeks, however many who knows? And then what they do is they select a president and two deputies. And that's going to take a little time. Then those three people will recommend a prime minister and the prime minister will then recommend cabinet ministers now this takes time. I think Gen. Abizaid used the word not a mature democratic system at this stage. It's in its early stages.
MARGARET WARNER: Iraq's nearly 6,000 polling places will open at 7:00 A.M. on Sunday.