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Petraeus: Serious Ethnic Challenges Loom in Iraq

The Iraqi Shi'ite faction lead by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr says one of its senior lawmakers has been killed in a bomb attack in Baghdad. The bombing comes as a senior U.S. military commander warns of a possible "uptick" in violence ahead of regional elections.

And in Washington, a key general and international peace leaders spoke of ethnic tension and violence in Iraq. VOA's Ravi Khanna reports.

A bomb struck a convoy carrying lawmakers loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad.

A senior member of the Shiite bloc was killed in the Thursday incident. Saleh al-Auqaeili was a member of the Sadrist political faction.

Reports from Baghdad say al-Auqaeili was known for his peaceful stance, unlike the more militant factions in the movement.

The ethnic tensions were on the mind of the the former U.S. commander in Iraq when he spoke in Washington at the Heritage Foundation. General David Petraeus cited remaining challenges.

"There are still certainly ethno-sectarian tensions, Sunni-Arab, Arab Kurd, a variety of different challenges, minority issues and so forth," Petraeus said. "They have got to deal with that, with the provincial elections law, with a guarantee of certain number of seats for some of the minorities - and then the possible return of the two major sources of violence in Iraq, the Sunni extremist al-Qaida in Iraq and their Sunni extremist allies and partners."

The general, who leads the U.S. Central Command, now says progress made in Iraq may be less fragile and more durable than he had estimated six months ago.

But the general's conclusion comes even as a media report warns of possible new violence.

McClatchy newspapers quote unnamed officials who say a high level national intelligence estimate warns ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iraq could unleash a new wave of violence. The newspapers report the secret document says gains achieved over the last year in Iraq could be reversed.

But Irish and South African leaders, who invited Iraqis to participate in a peace process in Helsinki last year, now say ethnic reconciliation is possible. The leaders passed on examples of how they resolved their own conflicts in meetings with Iraqis earlier this year.

Mac Maharaj, South Africa's former minister of transport, told a key U.S. House committee he saw that Iraqis want to be included in a peace process similiar to the Helsinki meetings.

"I see the importance of it as a platform so that Iraqis can now begin to articulate their grievances so that even those who have taken to violence can come to the table and tell us and tell themselves why they want to resort to violence," Maharaj said.

The Helsinki participants told the committee a new U.S. administration, after the election, must be convinced to continue such talks. They say this is the only way for the U.S. to get out of Iraq without leaving behind more ethnic violence.