The plan is in three stages: first, US-led military rule; second, a transitional phase with an American military governor ruling alongside a civilian leader appointed by (or at least acceptable to) the international community; and, finally, handover to a regime sympathetic to and nurtured by Washington.
Initially, the model for post-war Iraq was that of Japan's reconstruction under General Douglas MacArthur. But State Department experts felt this would be too brazenly colonial and cause resentment throughout the Arab world. However, although the MacArthur-style scheme has been discarded, a key resource for the planners is the archives of the denazification of Germany.
As it was with post-war Germany, it will be unfeasible to purge Iraq of all members of the Baath Party, Saddam's political vehicle. 'Millions of people are complicit. If they were all rounded up, the administration of the country would collapse. These are people who will be needed in any post-war situation,' Daniel Neep, of the Royal United Services Institute in London, said.
The US military governor of Iraq is likely to be Tommy Franks, the general due to head the attack on Iraq. This is not entirely the promotion it seems: Rumsfeld is known to dislike Franks for his strategic conservatism.
The first phase, US-led military rule, would last between six and 18 months after the war. It would be policed by armies from the 'coalition of the willing', including a big British contingent.
The second phase is seen as being a kind of international civilian administration, backed by a diminished military presence. Here, the inspiration being worked on is the protectorate in Kosovo.
But if the Americans are hoping for a broad, UN-led international coalition to take on the task of running Iraq, the United Nations is dreading the role. Officials at UN headquarters speak about having to 'clean up the mess ' at the end of a war which may not have been sanctioned by the Security Council.
'In American logic, the UN seems to have an advisory role when it comes to making war, the easy part; but becomes essential when it comes to making peace, i.e. the difficult part,' said one official.
There is bitter argument over who should be the prospective civilian governor, or 'High Representative', to rule alongside an American during the second phase. The Americans want an American. The veteran peace-broker George Mitchell, with his experience in Ireland and the Middle East, is a front-runner. But the Bush administration sees Mitchell, a Democrat, as too much of a dove. It favours Norman Schwarzkopf, who led coalition forces in the first Gulf war and is now, as a civilian, a vigorous campaigner for the Bush family.
But most Security Council members would prefer an appointment from a European Union country to counter American influence. The UN is determined, in the face of fierce US opposition, that Iraq's top civilian 'must' be a Muslim. Lakhdar Brahimi, the veteran Algerian diplomat who brokered peace in Afghanistan, is a possibility.
The third phase of reconstruction is the most controversial and least planned: the establishment of a pro-American Iraqi government, ideally within two years, that eschews the nation's recent past and, of course, weapons of mass destruction. The latter is more controversial than it sounds, as chemical weapons have been a corner-stone of Iraqi military strategy for two decades.
Never thought I'd see the phrase "US military governor" referring to a current event in my lifetime.