Middle East Expert Speaks on Iraq's Future

It looks like Saddam Hussein's reign is over. But what happens next? How can the West help freed Iraqis plan for their future? WTOC sat down with Middle East expert Jack Shaheen to find out; he told us to earn the trust and respect of the Iraqi people is not going to be easy.

After taking two sabbaticals to the Middle East and writing four books, Shaheen has learned what makes that part of the world tick. He says ousting Saddam is just the first step in freeing Iraq.

"Now comes the tough part," he said. "How do we achieve peace?"

Although we've seen video of Iraqis celebrating in the streets, beating fallen statues of Saddam, and kissing American soldiers, Shaheen warns we shouldn't be naive.

"I think morale is very low," he said. "The jubilation is short lived. We need desperately to start providing aid, water, food, bare necessities. It needs to be done immediately."

Shaheen says we need to spell out our intentions to "take away the fear factor." He went on, "We're there as their friends. Not as invaders, not to take over, not to rob them of their oil or to establish a little America in that part of the world. We have to take these fears. Once we have done that, I think we'll see some stability."

Although President Bush has gone on Iraqi state TV, Shaheen fears that's not the right approach.

"We should keep a low profile and to let the UN and international community go in and help to rebuild Iraq," he said. "Of course with our assistance."

He feels the key to success will be UN working with the Iraqis, helping them set up a democracy they feel will work in a free Iraq.

"The people who have had to live through Saddam Hussein, who've endured the most suffering, are the ones who should determine their own fate," Shaheen said.

Shaheen warns Americans are going to need to be patient. Iraq cannot be transformed overnight. Setting up a successful democracy could take years. We need to be involved, but not overly involved. We don't want to wear out our welcome before the objective is accomplished.

Reported by: Holly Bristow, hbristow@wtoc.com