WASHINGTON – A new Iraqi-led government likely won't be established for more than six months after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, and a U.N.-administered government probably won't happen at all, U.S. officials say.
The U.S.-led coalition will likely run Iraq until a new government is in place in Baghdad and ready to take control of its affairs, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Sunday.
Wolfowitz noted that it took six months for a government to form in northern Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War ended.
"This is a more complicated situation," he told Fox News Sunday. "It probably will take more time than that."
The United Nations likely won't be invited in to run an interim government, officials said.
A U.N.-administered government is "not a model we want to follow, of a sort of permanent international administration," Wolfowitz said.
"We learned a lot in the Balkan situation, where the U.N. suddenly moved in," Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said on ABC's This Week. "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."
Meanwhile, the United States is beginning to build a new Iraqi army even before Saddam's forces are defeated, deploying some of the nation's exiles and internal dissidents around the country.
Several hundred soldiers of the Iraqi National Congress exile group were flown to an area near the city of Nasiriyah, the group said Sunday.
The coalition eventually will turn over complete power to the Iraqis, and allow them to choose their next leaders and government, Wolfowitz said.
"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.
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed those sentiments.
"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," Biden told ABC.
But the U.S.-led coalition will stay in Iraq until officials are sure that the basic needs of the Iraqis like water, food and medicine can be met, Wolfowitz said.
"We'd like it as quickly as possible to be done by Iraqis," he said. "But we want to make sure it's being done, and we'll do it until we're sure they can do it."
"But the other part of in charge is determining the constitution of Iraq and how elections should be held and who the leaders should be," he added. "And we're not in charge of that. No foreigners can be in charge of that. That has got to be a process that involves Iraqis."
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, officials said.
"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.
The United States also will not keep permanent control of Iraq's oil industry, although it probably will be this country's responsibility initially because it is the most capable, he said.
"It's going back to the people of Iraq," Warner said. "We're there simply to maintain the security, provide for the infrastructure ... until the Iraqi people can have their own elections."