Top Bush administration officials told Congress Thursday that any U.S.-led military administration of Iraq would be as brief as possible. But they were imprecise about how long it might take, and how costly it might be, to rebuild a post-war Iraq and restore local government.
The Bush administration says it still hopes to avoid a military conflict over Iraq's defiance of U.N. disarmament resolutions. But senior administration officials say if it does come to war, offensive operations would be targeted to try to avoid severe damage to the country's civilian infrastructure, and that any post-war military administration of the country would not be prolonged.
Appearing before the House Budget Committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he could give no firm estimates on the duration or cost of a conflict, but said he hoped it would be "short," with operations focussed on what he termed the country's "despotic" leadership and not civil society.
Mr. Powell said if the campaign were to be successful, immediate responsibility for running the country would fall to the U.S. led military command but that this state of affairs would not last long.
"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," he said. "Transition to civilian leadership, either an American civilian initially or an international figure, or an international arrangement of some kind. And to transition through that as rapidly as possible to an Iraqi government that is representative of its people."
Mr. Powell said dislodging the current regime could be a simple matter, as he put it, "a walk in the sun," or more complicated if Saddam Hussein sabotaged oil fields or used other scorched-earth tactics.
At the same time, however, he said restoring civil society in Iraq should not be as difficult as it was in impoverished Afghanistan, noting that Iraq has an effective bureaucracy, a large middle class, an educated population and 20-billion dollars in annual oil revenues.
There were similar comments from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a Senate hearing. He said he could not estimate the cost of a war but suggested it would be less costly than the havoc that might be caused if the Iraqi regime passed its chemical and biological warfare agents to international terrorists.
"Mr. Rumsfeld also said the U.S. military would have to play a role in a post-war governing scenario but for no longer than absolutely necessary," he said. "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 how long and what it would look like would vary.
Both Mr. Rumsfeld and Secretary Powell said they expected the NATO alliance to weather the current dispute over Iraq-related aid to Turkey as it has survived past disputes.
Mr. Powell met earlier in the day with Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis on U.S. access to Turkish bases in the event of an Iraq war, and an expected new U.S. aid package for Turkey to offset the economic impact of a conflict.
However, the Secretary declined under questioning from House members to discuss the amount of aid being contemplated for Turkey. As to a similar, multi-billion dollar supplemental aid request by Israel, he said the administration "fully understands" Israel's needs but has made no decision on how to respond.