ARLINGTON, Va. — Iraq’s upcoming provincial elections and other possible challenges have U.S. officials keeping a “very wary eye on the horizon,” said Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

“We actually have a slide that shows these as different clouds out there and could in fact turn into storm clouds,” Petraeus said on Thursday.

Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker spoke with reporters Thursday at the Newseum in Washington. Their comments came after two days of marathon testimony on Capitol Hill about progress in Iraq.

One reporter asked if local Iraqi elections slated for this fall posed the risk of increased violence.

Petraeus said the elections are just one of a litany of possible problems that could crop up in the future.

“By no means are the elections the only challenges that loom out there,” Petraeus said. “There will certainly be issues as the provincial boundary disputes, the Article 140 issues are addressed in the months ahead.”

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution calls for a referendum on whether the northern city of Kirkuk should become part of the Kurdish Regional Government. Both Kurds and Arabs are vying for control of the oil-rich city.

Another issue is the coalition’s plans to release detainees, requiring the establishment of reintegration centers, Petraeus said

“There will also undoubtedly be refugee returns,” he said. “There will be pressures as a result of that.”

If problems arise, the Iraqi security forces would likely be the first in the fight, Petraeus said.

But Iraqi police and troops failed to wrest control of Basra from Shiite militias in a recent operation that ended only when anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr agreed to a deal brokered by Iran, according to media reports.

Petraeus conceded that the Basra operation had some “shortcomings,” but he said it also shows that the Iraqi government can rapidly deploy security forces.

“There is this growing capability of the Iraqis to respond to challenges, as opposed to having to rely on coalition forces, and as I mentioned yesterday, that certainly would be the first resort that we would look to,” he said.

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