WASHINGTON – Stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq could keep American military forces in the country for more than a year, the defense secretary and top U.S. commander in Iraq said Friday.
Gen. Tommy Franks (search), who ran the war in Iraq, said it is unclear how large an American force would be required for postwar occupation or how long it would have to stay. He suggested it could be years.
"Anyone who thinks they know how long it's going to take is fooling themselves," Rumsfeld added. He said the U.S. will keep "any number of troops that are appropriate and necessary" in Iraq for as long as needed to provide security for reconstruction.
Shortly before Rumsfeld spoke, the United States and its allies took their postwar plan to the United Nations and asked the Security Council (search) to approve a resolution lifting sanctions on Iraq and turning over its oil revenue to coalition control.
The U.S. plan envisions the United States and Britain running the country for at least a year and probably much longer. A 12-month initial authorization for the U.S. and British authority would be renewed automatically unless the Security Council decided otherwise.
Rumsfeld referred to the authorization timeline as "just a review period," not a deadline or estimate for the occupation's length.
Some rebuilding tasks in Iraq already are taking longer than Pentagon officials hoped. Electricity has been restored to only about half of Baghdad -- no improvement from when Rumsfeld visited a power plant in the Iraqi capital April 30.
Maj. Gen. Buford Blount III, commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, said last week he hoped units of the division could begin leaving Iraq by mid-May. Pentagon officials said Friday the division -- the main U.S. military force in Baghdad -- probably won't be able to begin leaving until the end of this month or mid-June.
Rumsfeld said that 51 days after the war started was too soon to be second-guessing the pace of reconstruction. That process will have "fits and starts" and setbacks, Rumsfeld said.
"It's going to take some time. It's going to take some patience," Rumsfeld said. "We have patience, and we accept the fact that it's untidy."
Franks said "there are a lot of variables" in the pace of the postwar transition, but that the change to a new form of government is smoothed by the fact that many anticipated scenarios -- such as torching of Iraqi oil fields or Iraqi missile attacks on neighboring countries -- did not happen.
"I have a sense that stability in the Red Sea region and in the Persian Gulf neighborhood is certainly as good as it was the day this started," Franks said.
"We are going to watch this nation form anew in accordance with what the Iraqi people themselves want to do," he added.
Some 135,000 U.S. troops are still in Iraq.
More than a year and a half into the anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan, some 9,000 Americans remain in that country -- and others in neighboring countries -- trying to build a national army and stabilize the nation once run by the repressive Taliban regime.
The postwar Iraq plan before the United Nations also calls for taking control of Iraq's vast oil revenues away from the United Nations, which has been running an oil-for-food program, and giving it to the U.S.-led coalition that ousted Saddam Hussein's regime. The money would finance the country's reconstruction, with international oversight. The United Nations would have a limited, largely advisory role.
Only a portion of Iraq's oil fields are producing now. Franks acknowledged a problem with "looting and pilfering" in Iraqi oil fields in recent weeks but said it's not "a show stopper."
The biggest problem, Franks said, was that Saddam's government allowed Iraq's oil infrastructure to deteriorate over decades.
"Those oil fields will produce for the Iraqi people, in the near term, a certain amount of oil," Franks said, adding that it will take some time to raise production to hoped-for levels.