Source: Farid Al-Salim, 785-532-5044, falsalim@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Tyler Sharp, 785-532-2535, tmsharp@k-state.edu

Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011

End of an era: Middle East expert predicts instability for Iraq after U.S. withdrawal

MANHATTAN -- With the deadline for the full military withdrawal of the U.S. from Iraq fast approaching, a Kansas State University Middle East expert predicts an unstable and uncertain future for the region.

Farid Al-Salim, assistant professor of history, says the desire for withdrawal is mutual. But the effects could result in great instability in the country if the Iraqi political parties engage in conflict to realize their political agendas.

"It will be the end of modern Iraq, established by the British in 1921, and lead to three Iraqs: one for the Kurds in the north, Sunni and maybe Christians in the middle, and the rest will be Shia in the south," Al-Salim said.

Questions remain whether the Iraqi army is willing to take over for the U.S. Army. Al-Salim is skeptical of that as well as the ability of the current Iraqi administration to withstand threats to its leadership. Similarly, Al-Salim predicts that the U.S. withdrawal will trigger a vacuum of power, which will allow Iran to seize control. Other countries in the region are unhappy with the American decision to withdrawal as a result, Al-Salim said.

"The Saudi government is really upset," he said. "Once the American troops withdraw from Iraq, they will go to Kuwait because the Kuwaitis are afraid something will happen when the troops leave."

Al-Salim recommends maintaining connections with Iraqis after the withdrawal. Security agreements are a practical consideration for the nature of the American interest in Iraq. But Al-Salim does not believe Iraqis would be receptive to such an agreement.

"It looks like the Iraqis feel they sinned by cooperating with the Americans from 2003-2009," he said. "Now they need to cleanse their bodies and minds from the sin; get out of here whatever the price is."

The consequences of U.S. intervention in Iraq have been felt in all corners of the region. Al-Salim says many Middle Eastern people believe that U.S. involvement has been a negative in the region. High casualties and suffering in Iraq lent a negative image to how the U.S. maintained stability in the country. The U.S.-backed regime has also inspired little confidence. He cites the Arab Spring -- the political unrest in the Middle East -- as a reflection of the Iraqi experience in the attitudes of demonstrators and revolutionaries.

Al-Salim said the demonstrators are no longer waiting for the Americans to come and change regimes. They want to change the regimes by themselves, by their own hands.

Administrations in Egypt and Tunisia, supported by the U.S., fell by the wayside during the Arab Spring. Each country made the change even while both presidents had maintained a certain degree of stability throughout their administrations, Al-Salim said.

To continue rehabilitating America's image and preserving stability in Iraq, Al-Salim urges caution and a full consideration of all options.

"We made some mistakes and we need to clear those up, but not by creating another mistake," he said.