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2011 turmoil poised to further ignite Mideast

With U.S. troops gone, sectarian strife now seems

With U.S. troops gone, sectarian strife now seems to be on the upswing in Iraq.(Getty) Credit: With U.S. troops gone, sectarian strife now seems to be on the upswing in Iraq.(Getty)

The Arab Spring was the biggest world-news story of 2011, and one that's sure to impact 2012 as well. Newly democratic nations in the region will hold elections, while others continue to fight for their freedom - and for the first time since 2003, Iraq will no longer be occupied by the U.S. military. Meanwhile, the United States must deal with sensitive situations in Iran and Pakistan, even as European nations fight to save the euro.

What's next for the Arab Spring?
After protests and even combat led to the ousters of longtime strongmen in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in 2011, much uncertainty remains in North Africa and the Middle East. Voters in Egypt and Libya could elect new leaders this year, and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has agreed to resign by February. Meanwhile, the Syrian government and rebels opposing President Bashar al-Assad are on the verge of civil war as we enter the new year.

How will Iran react to increased international pressure?
The U.S. and the European Union reportedly are expected to ratchet up pressure against Iran's nuclear program in 2012 by going after Tehran's oil profits, which account for more than half of the regime's revenue. Iran, however, has remained defiant toward the West, even publicly threatening to send ships near the Atlantic coast of the U.S.

Can Iraq stand on its own?
The U.S. withdrew its remaining troops from Iraq earlier this month. Most analysts and military officials believe that Iraqi forces can maintain order, but there is more disagreement on whether Iraq can defend its borders from outside attacks.

Can the U.S. and Pakistan continue as allies?
Next year could be a decisive one in determining the future of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. This year, tensions were greatly strained as the U.S. conducted a unilateral strike that led to the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and took part in an airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The U.S. has also accused Islamabad of supporting the militants in Afghanistan.

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