Two weeks ago, the sectarian violence following the partial destruction of the Askariya mosque in Sammara, north of Baghdad, pushed Iraqis closer to civil war.

Failures to form and convene a government after the 15 December elections, and disagreement over who should be the next prime minister have further complicated the situation.

Regional analysts say a civil war in Iraq could tear it apart and spill over into a wider conflict throughout the Middle East.

As'ad AbuKhalil, author of The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power and Bin Laden, Islam, and America's New 'War on Terrorism', believes Iraq has become a country of "mayhem, pillage, and plunder" and its demise threatens stability in the region.

He is now professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus, and visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

Aljazeera.net: How does the current situation in Iraq bode for the region?

As'ad AbuKhalil: The repercussions of the Iraq debacle are very likely to affect more places in the Middle East, not less.  There is now an explosion, literally, of militant fanatical groups that are bent on destroying the ties of amity and brotherhood between Sunnis and Shia. One can see that this was effective. 

The latest International Crisis Group [report] points out the cynical and destructive ways by which the US administration manipulated Iraqi social, sectarian, ethnic, and tribal divisions for its own sake.

Having failed to shore up support for its favourite "secular" clients, the US occupation armed and empowered lethal sectarian Shia groups that were bent on revenge.

"Bush, far from being remembered for establishing democracy in Iraq, will most likely be remembered as the man who brought ayatollahs' rule to Iraq, next door to Iran"

On the other side, [wanted Jordanian al-Qaida leader Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi and company found in Iraq the environment that existed in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

For such groups, the ability to register theological and ideological points on a land under US troops was too tempting.

This explains the influx of militant radicals from the entire Middle East. Ironically, the model of "democracy" and "secularism" that [George] Bush and the neo-conservatives were planning in Iraq had degenerated into a model of mayhem, pillage, and plunder, and the ayatollahs rule in all but name.

Bush, far from being remembered for establishing democracy in Iraq, will most likely be remembered as the man who brought ayatollahs' rule to Iraq, next door to Iran.

The ayatollahs' regional empire will have Bush's footprints on it. The region as a whole will continue to be affected.

Why do you say the US manipulated Iraqi divisions for its own sake?

When the US entered Iraq, it took advantage of the sectarian divisions in the country. These divisions had already been aggravated by the rule of Saddam Hussein, but now it was being aggravated again by the US.

The US exploited these divisions by making promises to the Shia community to have a larger share of the pie - of the oil shares.

This is a policy to produce a more divided country.

The US administration hoped that by averting the rise of national unity among Iraqis, they could play one faction against another.

This policy has worked. For example, the Kurds, for all practical purposes, can be considered independent.

However, whenever we see any Shia-Sunni alliance, the US immediately considers this a threat.

So, they sometimes appease the Shia. And other times they appease the Sunnis, but never both together.

Muqtada al-Sadr, though, is a danger to the US because he appeals for national Iraqi unity across the Sunni-Shia divide.

Should the US military withdraw its forces from Iraq?

The US has, strategically speaking, lost Iraq ... there is no option of victory. They lose if they stay, they lose if they leave.

Politically and strategically, Iraq has become an untenable situation.

Iraq was touted as a model of democracy for other nations in the area to follow. Will we see democratic movements come to power in such countries as Iran and Syria?

The Bush administration has used an ill-defined - and undefined - notion that freedom and democracy in such countries could produce nations supportive and friendly to the US.

Far from seeing evidence of rejuvenation of democracy, one can argue that authoritarian rule in the Middle East has been consolidated due to Bush's doctrine of introducing democracy in the region.

Democracy and good governance were not the criteria for "good regimes" according to the Bush administration. Instead, the overwhelming emphasis was on "fighting terrorism".

It was sufficient for the dictatorial regimes in the region, Jordan notably but others too, to "uncover" al-Qaida plots on a weekly basis to receive US military and economic aid, and to have their violations of human rights forgiven. 

Also, the mess in Iraq has permitted Arab governments to justify their rule by pointing out the model of Iraqi blood and destruction as being the result of democratic construction. 

One also notices that in all three cases that the Bush administration focused on as showcases of the Bush doctrine - Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq - societies are standing on the verge of civil war.

Why Lebanon and Palestine?

Anybody who follows public and political discourses in Lebanon or Palestine sees that the biggest and most feared prospect looking over people's heads is the spectre of civil war.

"I have no doubt years from now people ... will look back and remember George Bush as the most incompetent and most unwise US president ever. His legacy in the Middle East will grow more horrifically"

There are deep fears that did not exist prior to the Iraq war or the introduction of the Bush doctrine in the Middle East.

In these three countries there are stark similarities.

In Lebanon, for example, we have the US supporting the [Saad] al-Hariri group in its fight with the Lebanese government while also insisting that Hizb Allah disarm.

In Palestine, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbad is now receiving funds and arms from the US, but the Bush administration is demanding Hamas disarm.

In Iraq, we have the US supporting Shia militia who have not irritated the US military yet, while at the same time, US generals are demanding Sunni groups disarm.

In Lebanon, the entire dialogue conference (series of conferences aimed at bridging the divide between the country's various political sects and factions) is based on the premise of preventing the resumption of civil war. 

In Palestine, there were clashes between factions already, and Palestinians have warned against that threat. Arab TV polled Palestine and the most common refrain was people's fear of civil war.

All three countries have similar fears of similar scenarios.

How does the situation in Iraq affect the decision to attack Iran militarily?

Iraq will most certainly deter the US administration from attacking Iran.

Had the Iraq model worked as it was designed by Bush and his neo-conservative comrades, the tanks would have rolled over to Syria and Iran by now.

But that was not meant to be. There are not enough troops to deal with Iraq, let alone a new front with a more powerful foe in Iran. That will perhaps lead the US to permit, nay encourage, Israel to hit at sites in Iran.

But I do not think the US will resort to an attack on Iran.

Iran has the ability to retaliate against the US indirectly ... it has many options.

Iran can stir up trouble in Afghanistan, Iraq and with Hizb Allah, in Lebanon.

What, in your opinion, will the Middle East look like one or two years from now?

I have no doubt years from now people in the West and East will look back and remember George Bush as the most incompetent and most unwise US president ever.

His legacy in the Middle East will grow more horrifically. It will be seen that he has unleashed destructive forces in the Middle East, and has consolidated the rule of most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. 

From Iran and Syria, Bush wanted democratic transformation, but from his client regimes in the Gulf, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan, he wanted nothing more than little cosmetic changes that would not alter the power dynamics in those countries.

He has also contributed to the rising conflict between Arabs/Muslims and Western governments. 

His contribution in that regard will only please Osama bin Laden.