The plan for post-war Iraq is being plotted by one of the architects of the war itself, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
His task, he says, is to write a blueprint for a free self-governing Iraq, with a functioning government as soon as possible. "And if anyone thinks you can write a blueprint for that, they've never thought about it for more than five minutes," Wolfowitz says with a chuckle. "It's hard. It's going to be a -- they love this phrase in the bureaucracy -- 'a work in progress.'"
Wolfowitz is charged not only with rebuilding a broken country, but also with helping the Americans bring democracy to Iraq. That's a goal that has met with some skepticism, and Wolfowitz doesn't pretend to know if it is all going to work the way he has it planned.
If it sounds like an unprecedented experiment, Dr. Wolfowitz notes, "We didn't do this in order to conduct an experiment. We did this in order to remove a threat."
The work on the exile project began in earnest just a month ago, when Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz went on a recruiting trip to Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest Iraqi exile community in the U.S. He was looking for the best and brightest of the Iraqi exiles–doctors, lawyers, engineers, anyone with skills needed to help rebuild the country.
These Iraqi-Americans, he says, are "a unique asset." He hopes to use them to build "a bridge between Iraq's brutal and horrible past and its more hopeful future." In fact, he says, "these are people who understand free institutions and understand Iraq in a way that nobody who's not an Iraqi will ever understand it."
The exiles in Michigan greeted Wolfowitz with enthusiasm, but also with deep skepticism. Their message: Don't start this and then stop it with Saddam still in power. They weren't shy about saying that the United States let the Iraqi people down in 1991.
"I know that feeling is there," Wolfowitz says. "Even I was surprised at how strong it was." He assured them then, he says, that "if it comes to use of force, there is no question that we're not going to stop until this regime is gone."
A month after that meeting, the result can be seen inside a nondescript, heavily-guarded office building near the Pentagon. The Defense Department has gathered more than 60 Iraqi exiles here.
They're building a shadow government. One cubicle is the Ministry of Justice. Another is the Ministry of Health. Down the row is Social Services, and even Tourism –- although that one will have to wait a while.
Dr. Said Hakki, who will be responsible for recreating an entire health system, explains why he's here: "I'm an American now," he says. "There are Americans there who are not even Iraqis over there, and they're dying for a cause. So the least I can do is be there."
He has made a snap decision to leave his wife and six children, and his career as a urologist and a professor at the University of South Florida, to go back to Iraq.
He has not been there since he fled in 1982, and he doesn't expect the medical care to have improved. "This tyrant doesn't believe in progress," he says. "I saw from the pictures, the same beds that were there in the hospitals when I was there. Same hospital beds!"
His long-term goal for the hospitals for the Health Ministry in Iraq is to make them "exactly like what it is in the United States." And if that means staying there for years, he'll get it done.
The head of the post-war project, Emad Dhia, will work hand-in-hand with U.S. officials in an interim government in Iraq as soon as the war ends.
"The buses have to run. The garbage has to be collected. The water has to run. The electrical power has to come to the houses. Our target is to bring these services up to 70 percent of capacity and efficiency within three months," Dhia says.
They're scrambling to imagine every contingency. While we were there, a meeting revolved around one of the biggest concerns: how to root out Saddam's loyalists, who they say infest every ministry.
They're not just on a reconstruction mission, they're also planning to import democracy.
All the team members have to sign a creed. "The creed is to focus the mission," Dhia says. "And the purpose of the mission is merely to serve the Iraqi people. We are trying to help establish government of the people, by the people, for the people."
Sound familiar? "Yes, Ma'am," Dhia says.
Rebuilding Iraq is all about oil. Getting oil flowing will be the job of Mohammad-Ali Zainy, an official at the Iraqi oil ministry until he defected at an OPEC meeting in Vienna 20 years ago.
Until just two weeks ago, Zainy was a prominent oil executive in London.
He is content with his decision to leave that life behind for now: "I say to myself, 'Well, Mohammed-Ali, maybe this is your moment. And the quest for comfort and money is not really everything in life. Then just leave everything behind again, and go back.'" Why? Because "I feel my country needs me."
His job, when he hits the ground in Iraq, is to put out fires if any are still burning. Then, he'll focus on tapping the second richest oil reserve in the world. He says he'll have to refurbish the gear from top to bottom – new pumps, new pipes, new drills.
It is, Dr. Zainy acknowledges, "extremely important for Iraq to have this oil revenue to rebuild the country."
Zainy and the others will be returning at great personal risk to a place that's the setting of their recurring nightmares.
In 1982, Dr. Hakki was so afraid of Saddam that he sent his wife and kids out of the country and prepared to follow himself.
But then, Saddam called. He wanted to have his picture taken with the prominent doctor.
You have to ask, what was the expression on Dr. Hakki's face in that picture?
"I was scared. Very scared," he says. "I had all my belongings, my suitcase all ready to go. So I thought, this guy comes to my house, or his agent comes to my house, I'm done. It's over."
A week later, he left Iraq.
Now he and the others will return under the support and protection of the U.S. military. And that may be a double-edged sword. What can they say or do that will convince people that Americans don't mean them harm?
Dr. Hakki is not worried about that. "I will have in my hands insulin for the diabetic. I'll have blood pressure medication for the hypertensive. I'll have milk for the children. That's what I'm going to have," he says.
He'll be getting those supplies from the U.S. government. "I pick up a phone, I call on the Department of Veterans Affair or the DOD, and they will ship the amount in the flick of a finger. Just like that," he says.
But just like the war, the exiles' mission is fraught with uncertainty. It appears to be based on the hope that the Iraqi people will see the U.S. as liberators rather than invaders.
"I think the whole plan is based on the idea that we have a threat there which we have to remove," says Assistant Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz "And when we remove that threat, we want the Iraqis to form their own government. And we don't want to be there forever telling them how to run their affairs. And we'll have to see how it works."
Although he realizes "almost anything can happen," he is hopeful that the Iraqis will accept their presence, "provided we don't overstay our welcome, provided we hand everything over to the Iraqis. That's going to be very important."
So, when will he know that it's time for his Iraqi exiles to go to the scene?
"We don't discuss future operations," he says with a laugh. But, he admits, his team of Iraqi-Americans is "on call."
Produced by Michael Bronner and Kyra Darnton