WASHINGTON – Setting up a new Iraqi government likely will take more than six months once coalition forces take full control of the country, a Bush administration official said Sunday.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the interim government the United States will run with coalition partners and Iraqi opposition leaders is designed to be a bridge to whatever government the Iraqi people choose and is not designed to dictate the country's future leadership.
"The goal is not to install some particular group as the new leaders of Iraq. That absolutely contradicts the whole notion of democracy," Wolfowitz said as focused attention on postwar Iraq while making the rounds on the Sunday talk shows.
As for a timetable, Wolfowitz note it took six months for a government to form in northern Iraq after the first Gulf War.
"This is a more complicated situation," he told Fox News Sunday. "It probably will take more time than that."
Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no decision has been made on the size of the force that will be in Iraq during the transition. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki has suggested hundreds of thousands might be needed, but Pace noted only 10,000 are being used in Afghanistan, which is larger and more populated.
"What you need to determine is what missions need to be accomplished, and then how many forces you need to do that, to give the Iraqi people a chance to rebuild their own army, get their own police force up, get their own government working, so we can in fact leave as quickly as possible," Pace said on NBC's Meet the Press.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon indicated the vast majority of the 40,000 British troops in Iraq could be home by the end of the year. When asked how many British troops should be in Iraq in six to nine months, Hoon said: "I would hope that it would be a very small number."
Wolfowitz said the U.S.-led coalition will spearhead the effort to set up an interim government, but he stressed the Bush administration is eager to see Iraqis rule themselves.
"You can't talk about democracy and then turn around and say we're going to pick the leaders of this democratic country," he said on CBS's Face the Nation.
And he was adamant that while the United Nations should have a role in helping with the new government, the administration does not want to see the U.N. supervise and run the country.
"I think the right goal is to move as quickly as we can ... to a government that is -- if I could paraphrase Abraham Lincoln -- of the Iraqis, by the Iraqis, for the Iraqis," Wolfowitz said. "Not to make them a colonial administration or a U.N. administration, or run in any way by foreigners."
Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., echoed that sentiment on ABC's This Week.
"We learned a lot in the Balkan situation, where the U.N. suddenly moved in," he said. "And here we are 12 years later, still struggling to try and put those pieces back together. We've learned from those experiences, and we're not going to repeat them in the aftermath of this conflict."
Wolfowitz and Warner agreed that any interim Iraqi government should be made up of both Iraqis who left the country because of Saddam Hussein and those who stayed and suffered under his regime.
"We're trying to put together a meld of the two to perform a transition government until the Iraqi people, exercising the fundamentals of democracy, can elect their own government," Warner said.
Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the transition to a new government must be handled delicately.
"If it looks like it's imposed by us, if it looks like we sat down, hand-picked the leaders, put them in place, it will not have any legitimacy with the Iraqi people," he said.
Biden also said the U.S.-led coalition should stay in Iraq until it's clear the basic needs of the Iraqis for water, food and medicine can be met.