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Experts Gather To Discuss What's Next For Iraq

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DURHAM, N.C. — With U.S. troops having taken over Baghdad and U.S. officials discussing plans to rebuild Iraq, the questions regarding Operation Iraqi Freedom have become this:

Just what is the future for Iraq? And what role will the United States play?

Thursday, Middle East experts at a Duke University symposium tried to answer those questions.

"The long consequences of this war are still looming," said Dr. Hussein Hassouna, ambassador for the League of Arab States.

According to Hassouna, what happens now is just as important as the coalition's move to unseat Saddam.

"We feel Iraq has to remain a viable unified country," he said. "The first step is to re-establish security and stability."

The next step will be to establish a new government. Many Middle East watchers think that could prove difficult.

"The biggest challenge in the post-war period is working out a power-sharing arrangement among the many parties," said Robert Lidwak of the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Although the United States will play a major role in the rebuilding process, Hassouna said it will have to step lightly.

"The U.S. has a tough job to convince people of the region that it's not here to conquer an Arab country," Hassouna said. "It's not there to impose itself and to exploit it."

American troops have been a welcome sight to Iraqis now. But in order to preserve future relations in the Arab world, the U.S has to be careful not to overstay its welcome.

Experts say the trick will be to find the right blend of Kurds, Sunni Muslims and Shiites to govern and give legitimacy to a post- Saddam Iraq.

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