John Reid, doing cold turkey for cigarettes, is a worried man, he is, not for the first time, out of his depth.The snap - crackle -pop delivery has gone, a milder, curt delivery conceals someone who is running low on gas and low on ideas.
He has 9,000 troops in Southern Iraq and the natives are cutting up rough. Basra has been dominated for over 2 years by 2 major Shia groups, the Mahdi Army and the Badr forces of Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim who are associated with Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's [SCIRI] ,who have influential members on the Council of Ministers.
The hard , unpalatable truth is now fully evident, the British lost control of Basra a long time ago. Everything, administration, development, is dominated by the militias.
The Basra police force which the British have been lamely attempting to educate to what they see as Western standards is widely infiltrated by members of both militias. Also many top civil authorities in Basra are reportedly people allied to the militias or their affiliated political parties and have been elected by loyalists who have been mobilized to vote.
Tit-for-tat assassinations and drive-by shootings are a regular item in Basra street life as the militias vie for ultimate power. Secular and liberal opponents are frequent targets as the militias impose their version of Islamic rule, including banning alcohol sales and enforcing dress codes for women.
There are three street wars under way in Basra and surrounding areas ;
1. Shia militias Badr v Mahdi
2. Shia operating a policy of ethnic cleansing against Arab Sunnis and Christians
3. Mahdi against the British
Just as John Reid and strategic mastermind Tony Blair struggle to decide on the correct diplomacy, the militias are poised to take full control of Basra. The lifting of the two men after arrest by the Police , the assault on the jail and now the haughty dismissal of an arrest warrant for the men exemplifies the headless chicken school of dealing with a liberated nation. It plays well with the Press back home – the derring do good deeds of our brave lads – they think.
In reality, where petrol prices rise, Gordon cuts his numbers, new , bigger tax bills loom and as winter draws on with energy prices soaring the calls for withdrawal are rising.
Iran , with strong ties to SCIRI and Badr complicates matters as Iran's Revolutionary Guards equipped the Badr Brigades as a guerrilla force fighting against Saddam Hussein from bases in Iran until the US toppled the Iraqi leader in 2003 and are doing so again. They must see the time as opportune to solidify the Shia forces, lest the Kurds seize even more control oin the North, which the US forces cannot resist.
Iran's celebrated Holy Defence Week the annual commemoration of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, began on September 22. The tough stance they take , which is popular on the street, connects Iran's purported actions against the British in Basra with London's toughening stance on the Iranian nuclear program acting as Bush’s satrap at UN.
Donald Rumsfeld said on September 20 on Voice of America (the voice of reason in the world) : "Iran has been busy in southern Iraq for years and years and years. They've sent pilgrims back and forth across that border into those Shi'ite holy sites on a regular basis. The borders are porous. They're interested, they're involved and they're active." Rumsfeld continued, "And it's not helpful. You know, you can overplay your hand."
Iran's Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Larijani told a Tehran press conference on September 19th, that Iran had brought stability to Iraq and pinned the blame on the US.