The head of Australia's agricultural team in Iraq says security has deteriorated markedly in the past few weeks, forcing Australian civilian workers to wear flak jackets and helmets, restrict their movements and cut back meetings with farmers in the countryside.
Trevor Flugge, who was in Washington for meetings with Bush Administration officials, said a shooting had occurred recently just across the street from the Agriculture Ministry where he is working.
"We are seeing sabotage to some of the utilities. We are seeing these random shooting events," he said. "Whether they are linked to something organised we don't know.
"The fact of the matter is they are occurring. So for us, as civilians, I think it is really going to change, certainly for the next month or so, the way we go about our business."
Mr Flugge said that when he first arrived in Iraq it was possible to travel extensively in the north and south of the country, meeting farmers, and his team had received a positive welcome. Now, however, the honeymoon is over.
"I must admit that the last couple of weeks things have changed. In the short term, security is going to become a fairly high priority on all of our lists."
Mr Flugge and his United States colleagues cited power failures, water shortages and lack of telephones as serious problems, but he said there was now also a new sense of fear among some Iraqis that the countries that invaded the country might pull out if the attacks continue. He echoed the views of some State Department officials and US senators that the coalition had relatively little time to stabilise the security situation.
The facts on the ground are so far from what the Pentagon and the White House proclaimed would happen it's no wonder the facts on the desk in the White House and Number 10 are so far from the truth as well. Oh well, at least we have a fair chance these difficult ideas will not reach any desk where the buck stops.