Patrick Cockburn: Perceptive analysis contrasts with White House rhetoric

Ali A Allawi, until recently an Iraqi minister, is one of Iraq's most respected Shia politicians of the post-Saddam era. His study of the crisis in Iraq is by far the most perceptive analysis of the extent of the disaster in his country, and how it might best be resolved. It is in sharp contrast to the ill-thought-out maunderings of experts and officials devising fresh policies in the White House and Downing Street.

At the centre of Mr Allawi's ideas on how "to pull the Middle East from its death spiral" is finding a means to meet the fears generated inside and outside Iraq by the tectonic changes within the country.

This means recognition of the gains of the Shia and the Kurds, but also restraint on their part so the Sunni do not see themselves as being marginalised. It requires that the anxieties of Iraq's neighbours be allayed and the regional powers "Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran" be involved in a final settlement.

It may be too late. Mr Allawi speaks of finding a way "to save America's face" while the US exits Iraq, but this will be difficult while George Bush still has dreams of victory and is sending reinforcements.

But Mr Allawi's study, which is based on familiarity with all the main players gained during his years in government, is the first real attempt to suggest the Middle East might pull out of its death spiral. Born into a Baghdad family in 1947, Mr Allawi acquired most of his higher education abroad, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, LSE and Harvard, then working for financial companies and merchant banks.

He is closely related to prominent Iraqi politicians and joined joined the anti-Baathist opposition in 1968 as a member of Iraq's exile community in London where much of the early opposition to Saddam was based.

Mr Allawi fears that the Shia ascendancy in Iraq will lead to the persecution of Shia in countries where they are a minority, such as Saudi Arabia.

There is already a rekindling of anti-Shia rhetoric in a remarkably similar rerun of the pattern that accompanied the Saudi-led campaign to contain the Iranian revolution in the 1980s.

After the invasion in 2003, Mr Allawi was plucked from his post as a Middle East specialist at St Anthony's College, Oxford, and was appointed Trade Minister in the first post-Saddam government. In 2004, he was made Minister of Defence, and served as Finance Minister.

He is widely viewed by Western governments as one of the more capable of Iraq's post-Saddam politicians.

Although a member of a prominent Shia family, he has largely managed to avoid the sectarian divides of Iraqi politics and he has taken a strong stance against the Shia militias responsible for much of the inter-ethnic violence that has blighted Iraq over the past year. At present, he is a senior adviser to the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki and divides his time between London and Baghdad.

A problem is that whatever President Bush and Tony Blair thought they were doing when they invaded Iraq in 2003, the outcome has been very different. The limits of US military and political power have been exposed by its failure to overcome the resistance of the five million-strong Sunni community.