The UN's adviser on Iraq made a surprising attack on Washington's handling of its year-long occupation last night, condemning the detention of prisoners without trial or charge and offering a withering analysis of America's governance of the country.
Lakhdar Brahimi, a respected veteran diplomat who used to be the senior UN representative in Afghanistan and now serves as special adviser on Iraq to the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, also criticized the Americans for their onslaught on Falluja.
"The cordoning off and siege of a city is not acceptable," he said. His comments, on a day when the US said that another eight of its soldiers had died, were unexpectedly sharp.
Mr Brahimi is known as a cautious diplomat in public, but he made it clear he was speaking in the name of most Iraqis.
After a 10-day visit to Iraq, he prefaced his catalogue of American mistakes by saying: "We heard of many grievances which need to be addressed."
Mr Brahimi made it clear he thought it a grave mistake for the US to have dismissed thousands of qualified professional people, including teachers, doctors and engineers, simply because of their links with the now outlawed Ba'ath party.
He said sacking former army officers had caused problems.
There was only a crumb of comfort for Paul Bremer, the US administrator of Iraq, who is reeling from the hostage seizures, the collapse of security in large parts of the country, the failure to subdue the largely Sunni city of Falluja, and the uprising by radical Shi'a militias, all in the space of the past two weeks.
Mr Brahimi gave a clear endorsement of the US plan to appoint a prime minister as Iraq's chief executive and disband the governing council and supported the June 30 deadline for the handover.
Most of the 25 members of the council appointed by the US last July have been arguing for it to double its size and remain after the transfer of sovereignty. They will find it hard to resist their demise now it has UN backing.
Massoud Barzani, the council's current president, who stood alongside Mr Brahimi at yesterday's press conference, joked nervously when asked if he agreed. "Our life began before the establishment of the governing council. Our life will continue," he said.
Mr Brahimi said he was "confident" a caretaker government could be in place by June 30. He suggested a national conference should be held in July to promote "national dialogue and national reconciliation." It could elect a consultative assembly to work alongside the new government until elections next January.
His visit was severely restricted by the collapse of security and his team only managed to visit the northern city of Mosul. He made it clear that if the UN returns to help prepare for elections, it will need security guarantees.
As he made his comments there were more clashes between Sunni insurgents and US marines in Falluja. Witnesses said an air strike hit the Hay al-Dubat area at dusk. Four civilians and two rebels died in overnight fighting.
Iraqi mediators said they had extended the much-violated truce for 48 hours. They had achieved an agreement under which the Iraqi police would return to duty and US forces would withdraw.
Army officers said eight more US soldiers had died in combat, bringing to 93 the number killed in action in April.
In Baghdad US soldiers fired on looters raiding a military lorry, killing or wounding several. In Mosul, four civilians were killed by a rocket aimed at a police station. A rocket hit the Sheraton hotel in central Baghdad yesterday, where foreign contractors are staying, but caused no casualties.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004