ERBIL, Iraq, June 28 (UPI) -- There is a serious risk of instability for Iraq and the surrounding region once U.S. forces leave the country in December, a Kurdish leader said.
The remaining 40,000 U.S. forces in Iraq are required to leave the country at the end of December under the terms of a bilateral status of forces agreement signed in 2008.
CIA Director Leon Panetta told U.S. lawmakers recently he expected Baghdad to ask U.S. forces to stay beyond the Dec. 31 deadline.
Though violence is down dramatically from the height of the war, the security situation remains tense in Iraq. Lawmakers, meanwhile, are unable to make headway on a new government more than a year after parliamentary elections.
Kurdish Prime Minister Barham Salih in an interview with al-Jazeera said the dangers facing Iraq remain grave considering regional tensions. The situation "may be dangerous for Iraq and for the region" once U.S. forces leave, he said.
Arabs, Kurds and ethnic minority groups sprinkled throughout Iraq's north are squabbling over access to oil, autonomy and the disputed territories, a swath of land stretching from Sinjar in the northwest to Khanaqin in the north of Diyala province.
The Arab broadcaster notes that U.S. forces have an entire division dispatched in the region to keep tensions between the Iraqi military and Kurdish Peshmerga forces at bay. Despite public civility, relations between both sides remain tense.