WASHINGTON - In the first detailed public discussion of the Bush administration's plans for a postwar Iraq, senior officials told Congress yesterday that it would take more than two years for the U.S. military to transfer control of Iraq's government to Iraqi leaders.
The officials, seeking to demonstrate to skeptical senators that the administration's planning was well advanced, outlined a long list of steps for administering and democratizing Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
Those would include finding and destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, eliminating terrorist cells, starting economic reconstruction projects, purging Baathist leaders from the bureaucracy, protecting oil fields and securing the country's borders - particularly with Iran.
They would be carried out by American and coalition forces.
The United States would also play a leading role in rebuilding Iraq's oil industry.
This could cost as much as $10 billion if Hussein follows through on his threats to destroy oil wells, pipelines and refineries, as he did in Kuwait during the Persian Gulf war of 1991, the officials said.
If Hussein "utterly destroys" Iraq's oil industry, "it will make for a horrific reconstruction project," said one of the officials, Douglas J. Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy.
Although the U.S. Central Command, under the leadership of Gen. Tommy Franks, would oversee Iraq during the military occupation, the officials said they were not looking at the postwar occupation of Japan under Gen. Douglas MacArthur - which lasted seven years - as a model.
"The United States would have a commitment to leave as soon as possible," Feith said.
Feith's words were tempered, however, by his colleague, Marc Grossman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, who told the senators that even under good circumstances, it would probably take two years or more for the military to transfer control of many ministries to Iraqi officials.
To speed the growth of an indigenous, democratic-leaning Iraqi leadership, the United States would encourage Iraqi exiles, bureaucrats, professionals and local leaders to form advisory committees to assist Franks, the officials said.
"We will demonstrate to the Iraqi people and the world that the United States wants to liberate, not occupy or control their economic resources," Grossman said.
The two faced skeptical senators from both parties who sharply questioned whether the administration had done enough to prepare for the aftermath of a war.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, called Grossman's assertion that the United States could transfer control of the government to the Iraqi people in two years "naive."
"I think it's better to be up-front with the American people," Dodd said. "It's going to be very expensive and take a long, long time, particularly if we're doing it ourselves."