The US-led military coalition is losing the public relations war in Iraq although it may be regaining the military advantage, an Australian military expert warned.
Alan Dupont, of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre of Canberra's Australian National University (ANU), described the shooting of Iraqi women and children as a publicity disaster for the US-led coalition.
His remarks followed the deaths of seven women and children when US troops opened fire on a civilian vehicle that failed to stop when ordered to do so at a military checkpoint in southern Iraq on Monday.
Dupont said the incident had further damaged international support for the United States and its allies involved in the war.
He is the third ANU defence expert in as many days to issue a grim assessment of the political consequences for Australia as well as for the United States of the war in Iraq.
"On the hearts and minds front the war is still not going particularly well for the coalition," Dupont told reporters here.
"That point was illustrated by the unfortunate deaths of a number of women and children who were killed when their vehicle failed to stop in the early hours of this morning.
"That, of course, is a public relations disaster for the coalition and does illustrate the dilemma they face in conducting this war.
"While militarily they appear to be regaining the initiative, they've still got a lot of ground to make up on the public relations psychological warfare front."
Professor Des Ball, another analyst at the ANU's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre said on Monday that the United States and its allies had probably already lost the political war over Iraq.
"Saddam and his regime will go but the coalition's other war aims, I believe, are in tatters," Ball said.
Another ANU defence expert, professor Paul Dibb, told ABC television that it had to be understood the war was quintessentially a political act but it had already created huge political divisions internationally.
Unless it was handled extremely skilfully Australia would have a problem balancing what it viewed as its fundamental security alliance with the United States with what it described in a recent policy statement as its abiding priority for close engagement with Asia.