Bitter divisions re-emerged yesterday among the world's five most powerful countries about how soon America is prepared to return power to the Iraqi people.
The United States slapped down as unacceptable a French plan to end its occupation within a month, although Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, talked down the differences after the Geneva meeting of the United Nation's big five.
The failure to reach agreement on a new Security Council resolution that would pave the way for tens of thousands of international troops to go to Iraq under a UN flag, came as the situation on the ground grew yet more perilous.
Wild gunfire and anger erupted across the city of Fallujah yesterday during the burial of the US-trained paramilitary police shot by mistake in an hour-long gun battle on Friday. The latest tragedy comes on top of a rising death toll of ordinary Iraqis from lawlessness, banditry and American guns, which, according to an investigation by The Independent on Sunday's Robert Fisk, could be as high as 1,000 civilians a week.
The failure of the occupying forces to bring law and order to the country and the ability of the Iraqi resistance to strike with near-impunity are also galvanising international opinion against America and Britain.
If a new resolution is not agreed during further talks in New York this week, George Bush and Tony Blair can expect a month of public humiliation over the Iraq crisis. Washington and London had hoped the meeting of the veto-wielding members of the council would begin to draw the UN into the task of reconstructing Iraq. Instead, it produced a virtual replay of the pre-war rift.
President Bush is to address the UN General Assembly in nine days, where a majority can be expected to be loud and vocal in their opposition. Despite yesterday's failure, Mr Powell put the best gloss on the talks, saying he was encouraged, while adding: "Of course, there are differences of opinion on certain aspects."
But yesterday the very Iraqis that the occupying forces have enlisted as their allies angrily buried their dead. "America is the enemy of God," the crowds chanted as eight flag-draped coffins were carried into the town's Sunni mosque in Fallujah. The imam, Fawzi Namiq, called for an end to the random shooting that crackled from every corner of the city. "Save your bullets for the chests of the enemy," he said through loudspeakers.
Mr Powell rejected as "totally unrealistic" the French call for a timetable that would install a provisional government within a month, followed by a draft constitution and elections next spring.
"It would be delightful if one could do that, but one can't," was his scornful response.
UN involvement in peace- keeping and reconstruction would be a relief to Mr Blair, not only for political reasons, but because of the rising cost to the Exchequer of the British presence in Iraq. In his autumn statement on future spending plans, Mr Brown is expected to acknowledge that the £3bn set aside to fund military action against Saddam has proved insufficient to meet the dual tasks of fighting and maintaining a military presence in Iraq. He is expected to provide an extra £1bn.
"There will be a shortfall - and that will have to be met from the public finances," a government source said. "But the sums we are dealing with here are not huge in the wider scale of things. There is no way we are going to dump our responsibilities of rebuilding the place and improving the lives of people living there. It would be morally indefensible to shirk from that."
In addition to the cost to the public purse, Mr Blair has to count the growing political cost. Opposition to the war is expected to damage Labour's support in Thursday's by-election in the normally safe Labour seat of Brent East.
The Hutton inquiry into the suicide of Dr David Kelly will resume tomorrow, throwing more light on relations between the Government and the intelligence services, and how vital decisions are reached. Witnesses called tomorrow will include Air-Marshal Sir Joe French, a former chief of defence intelligence, and Greg Dyke, director general of the BBC.
Mr Blair is also facing the embarrassment of having the Labour Party's conference condemn him for going to war without UN support. Many local Labour parties have written to the head office asking for Iraq to be on the agenda. One resolutioncalls for "an end to Britain's participation in the US-led occupation of Iraq".
Diplomats are doubtful that any resolution on Iraq can be agreed before Mr Bush's speech to the UN General Assembly on 23 September. The best Washington can expect is for France to abstain, along with Russia and Germany, which has a non-permanent seat on the council. The sole crumb of comfort is that none of those who disagree with the US wants to provoke a showdown like the one that led to the March debacle, as Britain and the US simply by-passed the UN to launch the invasion.
Mr Bush, however, is unabashed by either criticism from abroad or his tumbling popularity at home. Far from stilling disquiet, his televised address last Sunday saw his approval rates drop from 59 per cent beforehand to 52 per cent afterwards, according to a CNN-Gallup poll. Six out of 10 Americans believe the administration does not have a coherent plan for Iraq.
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