Leading article: The lost battle for hearts and minds

The confidential survey - leaked to the British press this weekend - suggests that less than 1 per cent of Iraqis think the US and UK military involvement in their country is helping to improve security. Sixty-seven per cent feel less secure precisely because of the occupation. And - most worryingly of all - around 65 per cent of Iraqis approve of attacks on occupation forces.

If this poll is accurate, the message for the US and the UK is stark: the troop occupation is doing more harm than good. For most Iraqis, it seems, the withdrawal of troops cannot begin too soon.

This should come as no great surprise. Two and a half years after the US-led invasion, Iraq is in a terrible condition. More than two-thirds of the population rarely get safe, clean water. Almost half never have enough electricity. These conditions stem from mistakes made by the occupying forces in the wake of the invasion and the weakness of the present Iraqi government.

And then there is the loss of life. It is unknown how many Iraqi civilians have died in the past two years - either as a result of the insurgent car bombs or indiscriminate fire by the occupying forces - but it is likely to be many thousands. Twenty were killed by insurgents only yesterday. The dead included four children.

The toll has been heavy on the occupying forces, too. Twenty-three US troops were killed last week, bringing the total body count close to 2,000. There is also evidence of a crisis of morale in the British Army as it becomes clear that the battle for the hearts and minds of the population in the south of Iraq is being lost.

It is true that there have been some encouraging developments in Iraq of late. Last week, the trial of Saddam Hussein began. It was heartening to see the dictator finally called to answer for his many crimes against the Iraqi people. And this month's vote on the constitution passed off more peacefully than expected. The US administration and the Iraqi interim government are even daring to hope for a positive outcome.

But for many Iraqis, such developments are little more than a sideshow. Their lives are dominated by violence and grinding misery. And it is increasingly clear who they hold responsible.

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