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EDITIONS
Friday, 6 September, 2002, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Life After Saddam
Iraq leader Saddam Hussein
It didn't take a weapon of mass destruction to show the limit of the US's power to effect lasting change when an assassin tried to murder the Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

But like the exiled Afghan leader, very quietly the US State Department is nurturing and schooling Iraqi Opposition figures, who'd they'd like to succeed Saddam, in the art of democracy right here in Britain.

Peter Marshall reported from the heart of Surrey.

PETER MARSHALL:
Just off the A roads, nestled in the Surrey countryside, they have been discussing Iraq. Not Saddam's Iraq, but that nation once he is deposed.

For the past two days there have been confidential talks here about what to do there after the war. Organised by the US State Department, the meeting was about creating democracy. The invitations to some three dozen leading Iraqis in exile suggested they weren't going to talk generalities but specifics, the detail.

It's all been happening here inside this hotel. With the coming war and Saddam's demise taken as read, it shows how advanced things are.

It turns out this is the fourth such American organised meeting on post-Saddam Iraq. The previous three took place in Washington. The last one dealt with what they call public outreach, presumably the battle for hearts and minds. The fact that this one is happening here shows the importance of Britain in the movement against Saddam.

Because of the sensitivities of the US State Department and some of the Iraqi participants, the closest we were allowed to the talks themselves was a glimpse down the corridor and the sight of an occasional delegate in the foyer.

Once it broke up, we got together with a group of the Iraqis who had been discussing this so- called blueprint for democracy. After the Gulf War, they reckon America abandoned them at the last. Now they believe it's different.

SALEM CHALABI:
(IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS)
It seems from our discussions with the different departments in the US Government that they are more committed to nation building, which I guess answers your question, than they were with respect to Afghanistan as an example.

KANAN MAKIYA:
(BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY)
They have made a strategic decision to not only change the regime, but to have a very different kind of state in Iraq, and that they were working with Iraqis. That's the point of this conference and these workshops. Nothing like this happened before the attack on Afghanistan.

MARSHALL:
Who is running things here? Is it the Iraqis or the US?

DILSHAD MIRAN:
(KURDISTAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY)
The basic thing, we are Iraqis and we are exchanging our views as Iraqis among ourselves.

KANAN MAKIYA:
I would say it's a partnership.

MARSHALL:
It's a partnership?

KANAN MAKIYA:
A kind of partnership.

ALBERT YELDA:
(IRAQI NATIONAL COALITION)
I believe the American role was only as a moderator. The issues concerning Iraq and the future of Iraq was discussed by the Iraqis themselves.

MARSHALL:
You are saying Iraq will be ideally the model for the rest of the Middle East?

KANAN MAKIYA:
I think that's the thinking.

MARSHALL:
So Iraq today. Iran, Syria tomorrow?

KANAN MAKIYA:
I hope. Speaking personally.

MARSHALL:
Is that the aim? Is that the goal of all this?

KANAN MAKIYA:
No. The goal at the moment is Iraq, but the ripple effects of this mean that, for the first time, one will have an American relationship to the Middle East based on the interests of the populations in the region, as opposed to dealing with autocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So we will have a real change in the American relation to the Arab world, which is new.

MARSHALL:
American money is crucial to any hopes for this new future. Four years ago US Congress approved $97 million of goods-in-kind including military aid and training for the Iraqi opposition. The US State department chipped in with a further $51 million. So much money but, until now, so little to spend it on.

ALBERT YELDA:
We are not embarrassed by the financial aid and support that the US, or anyone from the Western countries or regional countries could provide to the Iraqi position to support and help our Iraqi people to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

MARSHALL:
Do you not feel compromised in any way, at least in perceptions in the Arab world, because of the support you are getting from the United States?

KANAN MAKIYA:
Hopefully, that divide will begin to be bridged the day after liberation, when something new starts to happen in Iraq and when the Arab population at large sees that the liberation of Iraq is welcomed by the overwhelming majority of people.

MARSHALL:
Your uncle is tipped to be the leader of a post-Saddam Iraq, Mr Chalabi. Is that likely?

SALEM CHALABI:
He has publicly stated he is not interested in the position, or any such position.

MARSHALL:
Ambitious politicians always say that.

SALEM CHALABI:
The point is it should be the Iraqi people that choose this. We hope to open political parties. People will have freedom of the press and this will emerge. New leaders will emerge who the Iraqi people will know and who hopefully they will elect.

MARSHALL:
When can you envisage democratic elections in post-Saddam Iraq?

KANAN MAKIYA:
Within a short period of time, a reasonably short period of time. It's hard to give a date on that, but I think it shouldn't happen in the immediate aftermath.

MARSHALL:
One year, two years?

KANAN MAKIYA:
Something like that, yes.

MARSHALL:
As soon as that?

KANAN MAKIYA:
I would say. It's guesswork at the moment. Much depends on the conditions. How much of the state collapses. How the war actually develops. He has threatened to gas his own people. He has positioned tanks and chemical weapons in areas which may lead to where he is holding his own population hostage. We don't know what kind of devastation he might wreak as a consequence of this war.

ALBERT YELDA:
The Iraqi military will play a role. We feel that there will be a chaos, definitely. There is no doubt that there will be chaos. The role of the military will be to provide peace and security, and to at least prevent rioting and revenge.

MARSHALL:
Can you rely on the Iraqi military?

ALBERT YELDA:
Military officers met in London recently, last July, and they issued and agreed a covenant that will support and commit themselves to the democratic establishment.

MARSHALL:
This is the exiled military who will in effect lead the people still in Iraq?

ALBERT YELDA:
There are 1,500 officers who definitely have contact in Iraq and within the Iraqi army. The Iraqi army have so many units of opposition from within. So this is why I would like to call upon the Americans or the Allies, if the war started against the regime, to spare the Iraqi army who are not involved directly in protecting the regime.

MARSHALL:
Who is and isn't to be spared? A bracing note on which to leave and see the departures of US officials. They are off to prepare for two final post-Saddam Iraq discussions at venues yet to be decided.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

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 ON THIS STORY
Newsnight's Peter Marshall
"Saddam's would be successors are being groomed by the US in a Surrey hotel"

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