Iraq's main Shi'ite political alliance has asked President Jalal Talabani to delay the first session of parliament, in order to give the parties more time to break a deadlock over forming a new government.
Mr. Talabani said this week parliament would convene March 12 to satisfy a constitutional requirement for the opening of the legislature. But officials from the main alliance party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq say they need a few more days to select a prime minister.
Also Tuesday, 16 Iraqis were killed in attacks across the country.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad told the U.S. newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, that the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003 opened what he called a "Pandora's box" of volatile ethnic and sectarian tensions.
Khalilzad said the potential exists for sectarian violence to become a full-blown civil war.
At the Pentagon, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters the potential for a civil war in Iraq has always been there, but he does not believe Iraq is in one right now. He accused the news media of overstating the current level of violence.
Rumseld also accused Iran of sending members of an elite military force into Iraq to cause trouble.
In other news, Al-Jazeera Arabic television aired a videotape showing three of four Christian peace activists held hostage in Iraq. But the tape did not show the American abducted with them in November.Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.