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.
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.
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.
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
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.
(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
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
Who is running things here? Is it the
Iraqis or the US?
(KURDISTAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY)
The basic thing, we are Iraqis and we are
exchanging our views as Iraqis among
I would say it's a partnership.
It's a partnership?
A kind of partnership.
(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.
You are saying Iraq will be ideally the
model for the rest of the Middle East?
I think that's the thinking.
So Iraq today. Iran, Syria tomorrow?
I hope. Speaking personally.
Is that the aim? Is that the goal of all
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
Your uncle is tipped to be the leader of a
post-Saddam Iraq, Mr Chalabi. Is that
He has publicly stated he is not
interested in the position, or any such
Ambitious politicians always say that.
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.
When can you envisage democratic elections
in post-Saddam Iraq?
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
One year, two years?
Something like that, yes.
As soon as that?
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.
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.
Can you rely on the Iraqi military?
Military officers met in London recently,
last July, and they issued and agreed a
covenant that will support and commit
themselves to the democratic
This is the exiled military who will in
effect lead the people still in Iraq?
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.
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
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.