Professors Joel Gordon and Najib Ghadbian discussed conditions and developments in Iraq and Lebanon during a Middle East forum Wednesday.

Protests against the U.S.-led occupation was an important development since the last forum two weeks ago.

Supporters of Moqtada Sadr turned out about 300,000 people to protest the presence of the United States, and the protestors chanted for the United States to get out of Iraq, Gordon said.

"We are starting to see a large number of people telling us to leave," Gordon said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Jalal Talabani has started the process of clarifying what kind of state the new Iraq will be.

"Talabani made an announcement that there will be no independent Kurdish state," Gordon said.

The new Iraqi government is attempting to engage the insurgency and bring residents into negotiations with the new government.

"Some meetings with insurgents have been going on, with the government, some possible concessions to the insurgents may be an amnesty and the sparing of the life of Saddam Hussein," Ghadbian said.

Dealing with the insurgents and the uncertainty of the government are creating a questionable atmosphere about where the state of the country of heading, Gordon said.

"Iraq is not formed in its government, and the delays in writing a constitution and forming a permanent government reflects the deep divisions among Iraqis," Ghadbian said.

Hussein's future reflects these continuing divisions in the country.

"Talabani seems to suggest that he will not sign Saddam's death penalty, at the same time, he sent a message to the insurgents about an amnesty," Ghadbian said.

This new turn of events is a "flip-flop," from the "Debaathification" policy of the Paul Bremer administration to a "Rebaathification," Gordon said. Bremer was director of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance in Iraq.

There has been no final formation of the government, but Talabani has made it clear that the Kurds will be part of the process. What position they hold will depend on the framework of the constitution, Ghadbian said.

"Talabani is pragmatic, shrewd and opportunistic, many in the Arab world are suspect of Talabani," Ghadbian said. "It is too soon to speak of Iraqi democracy; by not including the Arab Sunnis in the election was a major problem for the validity of the election."

Talabani has announced last weekend that the U.S. presence in Iraq will need to be maintained for at least another two years.

"What we are seeing is a tug-of-war of political interests to iron things out, but because of the artificial calendar for events to occur, like the writing of the constitution, it is creating a problem in forming a government," Ghadbian said. "It is not going to be easy to make a government in Iraq. It is a divided country."

Lebanon is facing the withdrawal of the Syrians, the undecided question of how to disarm the Hezboullah organization and the aftermath of the can't find first name Harari assassination. The Syrians are taking United Nations Resolution 5059 seriously by evacuating, Ghadbian said.

Hezboullah remains a powerful force in Lebanon, and could be disarmed; but it is perceived as part of the Syrian opposition, which keeps Hezboullah at a distance from disarmament, Ghadbian said.

"Lebanon is still reeling from the Harari assassination, which has begun an UN investigation, with many suspecting Syria behind the assassination," Ghadbian said.

The Lebanese feel the need to bury the past, concern among both opposition and the Syrians that continued violence will hurt the Lebanese economy is driving the Lebanese to cooperate, Ghadbian said.

"The Lebanese want their democracy to work," Ghadbian said. The Syrian withdrawal is happening faster than expected, Ghadbian said. Both professors agreed that the next two weeks for Lebanon are very critical.

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