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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday it is not possible to know how long U.S. forces will have to remain in Iraq and suggested that stabilizing the newly liberated country could take longer than a year.
During a news conference with Gen. Tommy Franks, Rumsfeld said a one-year timeline attached to the presence of U.S. and British forces in Iraq was probably "just a review period" in the overall postwar plan.
"Anyone who thinks they know how long it's going to take is fooling themselves," Rumsfeld said. "It's not knowable."
Shortly before Rumsfeld spoke, the United States and its allies asked the U.N. Security Council to approve a resolution lifting sanctions on Iraq and turning over to coalition control the country's oil revenue.
Franks said "there are a lot of variables associated" with 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.
Rumsfeld rejected criticism of the coalition plan to establish three zones within Iraq that would be under the control of troops from various coalition nations.
He said it would be "unfortunate for people to think that the United States is dividing that country into three pieces, because we are not. It's a whole country."
Both Rumsfeld and Franks rejected the notion that coalition forces failed to protect priceless artifacts in Iraq's national museum. The defense secretary said he was told that some of the museum's contents "had been secreted away" as part of an inside job.
"I was told personally by someone who went to the museum three weeks before that the door was closed, and there were very few items that were visible through the doors," Rumsfeld said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)