WASHINGTON – As thousands more U.S. troops head to the Persian Gulf to prepare for possible war, the Bush administration is laying out the framework for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
"The government has spent a good deal of time over many months thinking these various elements through," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
Appearing before the committee to talk about the Pentagon's 2004 budget, Rumsfeld said the military would have a major role in making sure Iraq is stable enough to handle a transfer to another government after Saddam is deposed.
"The United States simply has to be willing to stay there as long as is necessary to see that that is done but not one day longer. We have no interest in other people's land or territory. We have no interest in other people's oil, as some articles seem to suggest, so exactly how long it would be and what it would look like would vary," Rumsfeld said.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the House Budget Committee that he was pressed to come up with a timetable for how long it would take to replace Saddam's regime.
"We just don't know at this point, but we have to be prepared for fairly long term commitment," Powell said.
The plan calls for a top general like Tommy Franks to take the reins of government in Iraq initially, but then to quickly move out of the way. Franks leads the Central Command, which is doing much of the planning for a possible war.
"It would be our goal to quickly transition from military leadership -- we don't want an American general running a Muslim country for any length of time -- to civilian leadership, either an American civilian initially or an international figure," Powell said.
Administration officials say Baghdad already has a substantial governing structure in place. Unlike Kabul, Afghanistan, where the United States had to assist the Afghans after the Taliban's ouster, Iraq has infrastructure, institutions and a developed middle class, according to Powell.
"This is not like Afghanistan where everything had to come up out of the dust, so there is a functioning society there. What it has, though, is a horrible leadership," he said.
As for the cost of military action in Iraq, estimates from the administration continue to hover around the $50 to $60 billion range. But senators couldn't nail down a specific dollar figure from Rumsfeld.
"It would cost a heck of a lot less than 9/11 cost, and 9/11 would cost a heck of a lot less than a chemical or a biological 9/11," said Rumsfeld.