Photograph from Indiana University Web site

Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Feisal Amin Al-Istrabadi says the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq will be a step backward for the country. Others, however, say Iraq needs space to breathe without the Americans occupying their country.

Since the first American missile was launched at Iraq, Said has not slept well. "How could I sleep while hearing explosions and shouting behind my bedroom every day," he said by telephone from his home in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. When Said leaves his home, he is not sure if he will come back.

His situation is not unique. The mother of another young Iraqi man named Fareed complained in a hoarse voice on the telephone, "My son went out one day and never came back. ... I don't know whether he died or not. ... He suddenly disappeared."

Life is unforgiving in Mosul, where American forces have become the guards of the city. When I asked Said and Fareed's mother if the withdrawal of American forces would affect the people there, both said it does not matter.

"This is not a safe environment," Fareed's mother said. "There is no safety here. ... Americans just protect their interests."

But the Iraqi journalist Mustafa Hammed does not see things the same way as Said and Fareed's mother. He does not see how people can think that the withdrawal of American forces would be unimportant.

"Of course it matters," he said. "It is about the end of the occupation or not. It is positive for us as Iraqi people to see American forces withdraw from Iraq and give us a little bit of breath."

Conversely, Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, emphasized in an interview, "The American forces' withdrawal is conducting a step backward for Iraq. ... American militaries play an important role to stabilize Iraq."

"It is positive for us as Iraqi people to see American forces withdraw from Iraq and give us a little bit of breath."- Mustafa Hammed, Iraqi journalist

Al-Istrabadi, who also served as Iraq's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations from 2004 to 2007, does not believe the Iraqi forces have the capacity to control the border of Iraq nor the ability to build a safe place for people to live.

Hammed disagrees. "Some militia groups believe that the violent activities here will follow American forces when they leave," he said. "Once American militaries leave, the violence will drop off too, or at least the violence will decrease."

Michael Bevers works for an American contractor whose mission is to strengthen the government at the provincial council level in Ninewah Province, whose capital is Mosul. "The coalition forces are required to move out of the cities by June 30th," he said via an MSN messenger conversation. "This will be another benchmark in the U.S. leaving Iraq. I feel that the insurgency of activity will decrease once the U.S. patrols finish."

With respect to President Barack Obama's withdrawal plan, al-Istrabadi said it isn't consistent with his campaign promises. "What he actually did was decrease the military troops rather than withdraw them, and, of course, it was not a good decision for the future of Iraq."

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The impact of American withdrawal on Iraq may extend to other areas in the Gulf region, in particular, Iran.

"Iraq will not benefit from the vulnerability resulting from a power vacuum."- Professor Ahmad Shikara, Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, Abu Dhabi

Professor Ahmad Shikara, from the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research in Abu Dhabi, said, "Probably the first result of withdrawal would be a power vacuum, especially if Iraqi security has not been properly handled, and Iraq will not benefit from the vulnerability resulting from a power vacuum."

Hammed said the main beneficiary of the American withdrawal will be Iran, but Iran isn't the only concern. "There is also the influence of Syria's espionage in western Iraq, too."

Bevers worried about the role the nationalist Iraqi party Hadbaa will play after the withdrawal. "One party won in the last province election," he said of Habaa's Jan. 31 election victory in Ninewah. "This party was not based upon improving services to constituents. It was based on two pieces of rhetoric -- first, to remove the Coalition Forces from Iraq, and second, to remove the Kurds from Ninewah." He said that "negative politics ensured this party's success."

Since the party's success is based on using anti-Kurdish rhetoric, this could be the beginning of an internal conflict in Iraq. "The Council of Representatives has yet to decide the Kirkuk issue, one of the most tenuous issues in Iraq," Bevers said, referring to the Kurdish city's future.

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Shikara envisions "genuine integration of its entire people in all regions from north to south and from west to east" after the American withdrawal. Iraqis cannot afford to be "disunited and fragmented, as in previous wars that have cost them direly in lives and properties," he said. The political system "has to be built on national bases, not on sectarian or ethnic or even tribal bases."

"I do believe that foreign insurgency will likely diminish overall. But the chances for sectarian violence will remain high."- Michael Bevers, American contractor, Mosul

Al-Istrabadi assumes the future of Iraq will be bleak. "I'm not cynical," he said. "The fact is that Iraq has sectarian problems." This sectarian conflict is not between Shiites and Sunnis. It is between the sectarians themselves, among Sunni-Sunni and Shiite-Shiite. When the sectarians begin to fight each other, "it means the beginning of civil war in Iraq."

Another problem is the militia. "These militias are, essentially, governments inside the government," al-Istrabadi said.

The Iraq problem is not just due to Americans, it is also due to the Iraqi government itself. Even though the Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki tries to be nationalistic in his discourses and speeches, he allows Shiite clerics from Iran to visit Iraq and denies the same opportunities to Sunnis. And while local police can arrest Sunnis, they cannot arrest Shiites without permission from the government.

"Look at his advisers for example," al-Istrabadi said. "Then you will identify that he is a sectarian person."

Hammed praises the al-Maliki government. "Although I disagree with the government, I feel that the new government has done a great job with security issue in the last period," he said.

The insurgency is another significant issue, according to Bevers. "Personally, I am unsure about the future of Iraq," he said. "However, I do believe that foreign insurgency will likely diminish overall. But the chances for sectarian violence will remain high."

Yet, there is some optimism in Iraq despite the existence of racism and bias. "I still feel that Iraq can progress and survive," Bevers said. "But before the real progress is made, my belief is we will see more ethnic/sectarian cleansing or a civil war via Sunni and Kurdish insurgency."

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The neighboring countries have differing attitudes about Iraq. Besides Iran and Syria, no other neighbors are involved as much as they should be in building relationships with Iraq.

"The fact is that Iraq has sectarian problems."- Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, Iraqi ambassador, United Nations

Shikara believes the Gulf states "are in general terms sympathetic to the country and to the Iraqi people, but when it comes to national interests the relationship still needs a boosting."

Two Gulf countries, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait, have formed diplomatic relations with Iraq. But "the UAE has made noticeable all the debts on Iraq whilst Kuwait has not and still needs a lot of negotiations in this issue," Shikara said.

Al-Istrabadi also agreed that the Gulf countries should take action to recognize Iraq. "Now, Iran is the only player in the region, which is a problem when there are no other competing players in the state," he said.

Iraqi journalist Hammed hopes that the Iraqi government will establish a good relationship with other neighbors: "So far, no neighbor country recognizes the Iraqi government except Kuwait." Amir of Kuwait is the only person who visited Iraq and met with the Iraqi government. No other country has done anything like that up to now.

Shikara insists that regional powers, Arabs and non-Arabs, "should help Iraq overcome its obstacles and crises, and that cannot be solved by one country alone. It is universal responsibilities."

He also hopes that the United States "will help play a great role in building Iraq and establishing peace in the entire Middle Eastern region because as many are aware, security is a comprehensive issue."

Anas Alahmed is a Saudi Arabian graduate student studying journalism at IU. He can be reached at aalahmed@umail.iu.edu.