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Senior Iraqi Official Assassinated

A senior Iraqi interim government official has been assassinated as insurgents in the country appear to be stepping up efforts to derail national elections scheduled for January 30. Government and religious leaders in Iraq say the insurgents are attempting to create an atmosphere of civil war - pitting religious and ethnic groups against each other - in an effort to stop the elections from being held.

The Director General of the Communications Ministry was driving to work when gunmen pulled up alongside his car and opened fire with automatic weapons.

A senior interim government official said the assassination was politically motivated.

Several senior Iraqi officials have been killed in recent months, as have National Guard troops, army personnel and policemen.

On Wednesday a bomb attack killed several people and wounded more than 20 others at a Shiite mosque in the holy city of Karbala, south of Baghdad. Among those killed was a senior aide to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq.

According to several senior interim government officials, insurgents are attempting to create friction between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in an effort to start a civil war in Iraq.

The caretaker for one of the oldest Islamic shrines in Baghdad, Sheikh al-Haj Abass Zaweidi, says he agrees.

Sheikh Zaweidi says the insurgents are trying to create a problem between Sunnis and Shiites, while at the same time trying to create problems between the Christians and the Muslims, and between the Kurds and the Arabs. He says it is their aim to create a civil war involving everyone in Iraq.

Tuesday, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi warned his government of increased attacks, as Iraq heads for national elections in January.

A senior government official says it appears the insurgency continues to operate with what he called, "some form of a central command." The official, who asked not to be named, says recent actions by insurgents show they are operating with but "one coordinated goal," to stop at nothing to disrupt the upcoming elections.

He said that is why the elections will be held as scheduled. And he vowed that the insurgents will not "defeat the people of Iraq."

Campaigning is officially underway for national elections that will select a 275-seat interim national assembly.