Another day, another American death

As the fourth serviceman to die in five days falls victim to snipers' bullets, US officials look to UN for help
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The coalition victory in Iraq suffered further hairline cracks in Washington yesterday as another American soldier fell to sniper bullets in Baghdad and US officials began timidly to suggest that they might have to plead for help from the United Nations to stabilise the country.

The killing of the soldier, who was guarding a bank in western Baghdad, brought the total number of casualties among US troops since the launch of the war to 149, two more than died during the 1991 Gulf War. He was the fourth US serviceman to die in Iraq in five days.

For President George Bush, Iraq has become a daily torment. Polls have shown his popularity starting to slide significantly. Meanwhile, ever more strenuous efforts by the White House to deflect controversy over the veracity of intelligence used to justify the war seem to be failing.

Washington now faces the humiliating prospect of asking the UN to consider another resolution on Iraq as the only means of persuading other governments to send troops to the country and ease the burden on American soldiers trying to restore order. Given that Washington and London went to war against the wishes of most UN members, that might be a hard task.

"There are some nations who have expressed the desire for more of a mandate from the United Nations, and I am in conversations with some ministers about this, as well as with the Secretary General of the United Nations," said the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

Meanwhile, Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, has offered a bleak assessment of the situation. In his first report to the Security Council on Iraq since the war, he warned that "daily living conditions have not improved, at least not for those living in urban areas, and may have got worse".

A CNN-Time poll showed that President Bush's approval rating had dropped eight points since May to 55 per cent.

Hoping to calm the storm over a reference by the President in his State of the Union address to a now-discredited nuclear link between Iraq and Niger, the White House released sanitised excerpts from a national intelligence report of last October, saying there was "compelling evidence" for the claim. However, the excerpts also show that the State Department considered the claim to be "highly dubious".

Carl Levin, a senior Democratic Senator, yesterday said the claim raised questions about whether officials had tried to "create a false impression about the gravity and imminence" of the Iraqi threat. He said including the claim in the speech "was not an inadvertent mistake".