Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday Washington won't allow an Iranian-style Islamic government in Iraq.
Iran in turn rejected Bush administration accusations that it is interfering in Iraq. It said the United Nations — not the United States — should run an interim postwar government.
Rumsfeld said the United States — which has promised to let Iraqis choose their own leaders — will not permit the establishment of a religious government comparable to the one in neighboring Iran.
"If you're suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: That isn't going to happen," Rumsfeld told The Associated Press.
In other developments:
The coalition-led interim administration is working to appoint an oil advisory team that will be responsible for rebooting the country's oil ministry.
Among its duties would be examining the possibility of privatizing Iraq's state-run oil industry and opening it to foreign investors, said Gregg Sullivan, a spokesman for the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau at the U.S. State Department.
Philip Carroll, who was president and chief executive of Shell Oil Co. from 1993 until his retirement in 1998, confirmed to the Houston Chronicle earlier this month that he had been asked by the Defense Department to head the oil team.
The commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, Gen. Tommy Franks, said those troops could remain for "months, or a year or two" to ensure stability as Iraqis develop their new government.
"The fact is we don't know how long it'll take … because we do not yet know exactly how devoted the Iraqis themselves will be in getting over their own tribal and ethnic and religious difficulties," Franks said in an interview in Friday's St. Petersburg Times.
Garner and the White House have accused Shiite-led Iran of exploiting those difficulties, by encouraging anti-American sentiment among Iraq's Shiites. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi denied this.
"We welcome true democracy and a government run by the people in our neighbor country, but we won't support one specific party," Kharrazi told reporters.
"Only when a U.N. government takes control in Iraq will there be no more suspicions and accusations from other countries," Kharrazi said.
Although U.S. officials hope some Iraqi government ministries will reopen next week, there is no firm timetable for installing a provisional government or scheduling democratic elections.
An initial "all-factions" meeting to discuss the political future was held April 15 in southern Iraq, attended by 80 representatives but boycotted by some groups opposed to the U.S. military presence. A second meeting is expected to be held soon in or near Baghdad.
One of the leading Shiite clerics in Baghdad, Sayyed Ali al-Kathimi al-Waethi, said he and his followers would not agree to meetings with Garner.
"People should rule themselves by themselves. The Americans should leave our country peacefully," al-Waethi told The Associated Press.
According to the Washington Post, the United States plans to introduce a new Security Council resolution next week that will lift sanctions on Iraq and give the U.N. only an advisory role in the postwar administration.