In today's London Independent: This assault on Fallujah risks alienating the entire population of Iraq

Nevertheless, elections remain Iraq's best opportunity to escape the maelstrom of death and insecurity into which it has been thrust. A legitimate government would be much more effective both in providing security and repairing the damage done to Iraq's infrastructure. It would have the authority that Iyad Allawi's American-appointed administration clearly lacks. Perhaps the greatest mistake of the whole US occupation was its failure to call elections immediately after the fall of Baghdad, when the insurgency had not yet begun and when Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful Shia cleric in Iraq, was demanding a popular vote.

Despite its professed goal of introducing democracy to Iraq, the US has consistently proved unwilling to hand over power to the Iraqi people. It likes the idea of establishing an Iraqi-led government, but only if it does what it is told. Needless to say this is not the sort of government the Iraqi people have much time for, as the widespread rejection of the interim administration has shown.

The US urgently needs to change its tactics in Iraq and adopt a more humane approach. Otherwise the country - and its occupiers - risk being plunged yet further into the abyss.


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