WASHINGTON – The United States should not expect to create a functioning democracy in Iraq for at least five years, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday.
"The institution-building process in Iraq is a huge endeavor," said Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. "There's not much to work with at the moment."
Lugar said the Bush administration started to work very late on a system to replace the rule of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, ousted with an invasion and war.
The military plan's "tactics and execution have been brilliant," Lugar said on NBC's "Meet the Press." Similar preparations should have been made for what was to come afterward, he said.
"I would think at least we ought to be thinking of a period of at least five years' time" to develop democracy, Lugar said. Some are talking of four months to five months, he said, which would amount to "trying to do it on the fly" and would not work.
Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh agreed that an extended American military presence in Iraq will be necessary. "We're going to have to be there for a while -- not permanently, but for a while, because we don't want to win the war and then lose the peace," he told "Fox News Sunday."
Nevertheless, Bayh said he sees movement.
"We'll have to maintain a significant presence here early on until things truly get settled down," said Bayh, a member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Forces committees. "There's some momentum toward a civil society in Iraq. And then hopefully we can begin to ratchet that back."
Iraq's pro-U.S. opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi said a U.S. military presence in Iraq "is a necessity until at least the first democratic election is held. And I think this process should take two years." He told ABC's "This Week" that he views a strategic alliance between the two countries as "a very good thing."
Lugar spoke of the sensitivity of molding a system of governance for the Iraqis that would be dramatically different from what they have known.
The first task is to learn whether "there are groups of Iraqis prepared to work together," he said. "It may very well be that Kurds and other parts of the country might want a great deal of autonomy."
Non-Arab Kurds form the majority in northern Iraq and neighboring Turkey and have exercised autonomy guaranteed by the United States and Britain for years. Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims, in the South, have been kept out of power by Sunnis like Saddam for decades.
In trying to bring the parts together, Lugar said, the United States must have specific goals and work with Iraqis who understand them.
"When it finally comes to elections," he said, "the result might not be totally gratifying." As in Turkey, which has a new government formed by an Islamic-rooted party and refused to let the anti-Saddam coalition invade through Turkey, America generally would have to live with it, he said.
Lugar would draw the line at accepting an elected theocracy similar to that in neighboring Iran.
"I just think we cannot," he said. He agreed with James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who was a fellow guest on NBC, that such an election would be "almost a one-vote, last-vote situation."