Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger says that the Bush administration may have to give up on democracy in Iraq to salvage the goal of stabilising the country.
Kissinger, who has frequently advised US President George Bush in the three years since the US invaded Iraq, told the Los Angeles Times that he believes democracy for now is out of reach for Iraq.
"I think that's reality. I think that was true from the beginning," he was quoted as saying in the Sunday edition.
His comments, coming after the US electorate earlier this month dealt ruling Republicans a resounding defeat in Congress, largely over the lack of progress in the war in Iraq, sharpened the criticism aimed at the White House even from within Bush's own ranks.
Kissinger's analysis also broadens the options being proposed for the war.
Kissinger, who supported the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, said it would have been better for the US to postpone democratic development and instead quickly install a strong Iraqi leader.
"If we had done that right away, that might have been the best way to proceed," Kissinger was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying.
He called it "a mistake to think that you can gain legitimacy primarily through the electoral process".
Kissinger emphasised that he, too, had supported the invasion, and said that his remarks were those of a "friend of the administration who thinks well of the president".
Within the US political establishment, two major efforts are underway to find a solution in Iraq.
Since April, a bipartisan group appointed by Congress, the so-called Iraq Study Group, has been discussing the issue and is expected to release its findings next month.
Republican co-chair James Baker, another former secretary of state, has advocated opening talks with Iran and Syria as part of a wider Middle East solution - an approach that Kissinger seemed to support.
The second effort was started by the White House after the elections, to pull together efforts within the administration to develop its own map for change.
In the post US elections reassessment, Bush has conceded that mistakes may have been made in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, a US senator who as a navy pilot spent several years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, told ABC News Sunday that US soldiers are "fighting and dying for a failed policy".