Longish but essential. Fadhila controls the elite units of the local police and the oil terminals; the Mahdi Army controls the rest of the police and the ports and customs; and SCIRI’s Badr Brigade controls the commandos.

And of course Iran controls virtually everything.

The general was on the phone to another officer when I entered. He was jokingly threatening the caller: “Shut up or I will send democracy to your town.”

When he finished his conversation, the general – who didn’t want his name published because he feared retribution from militias – stretched out his hand to me and said: “Welcome to Tehran.”

I asked him about British claims that the security situation was improving. His reply was withering: “The British came here as military tourists. They committed huge mistakes when they formed the security forces. They appointed militiamen as police officers and chose not confront the militias. We have reached this point where the militias are a legitimate force in the street.”

A militiaman interviewed by the author elaborates:

“They [the Iranians] don’t give us weapons, they sell us weapons: an Iranian bomb costs us $100, nothing comes for free. We know Iran is not interested in the good of Iraq, and we know they are here to fight the Americans and the British on our land, but we need them and they are using us.”…

Most of the Shia militias and parties that control politics in Basra today were formed and funded by Tehran, he said…

[L]ike many he was philosophical about Iranian interference. “Unlike the US and the UK, Iran invested better. They knew where to pump their money, into militias and political parties. If a war happens they can take over Basra without even sending their soldiers. They are fighting a war of attrition with the US and UK, bleeding them slowly. We arrest Iranian spies and intelligence networks but they are not spying on the Kalashnikovs of the Iraqi army – they are here to gather intelligence on the coalition forces.”

It’s not just happening in Basra, either. Iraqslogger says the Shiite power struggles have succeeded where Al Qaeda car bombs have failed by drawing the militias back into the streets, specifically to do battle with each other. Fadhila and even Maliki’s Dawa Party factor here too, but the battles seem mainly to be between the JAM and the Badr Brigades (or Iraqi army personnel loyal to SCIRI), especially in Najaf, Baghdad, and most recently Nasiriya.

The southern Shiite areas are supposed to be the “quiet” areas of the country, which may be true for the moment but clearly won’t be for much longer. One has to wonder if this is a sneak peek at the next stage in the Sunnis’ cleansing of Al Qaeda from Anbar, with various tribal police forces bound to rub up against each other and carve out their fiefdoms after the jihadist threat has been neutralized.

Update: More good news — “Iraqi parliament falling into disarray.”

Last week, [parliament speaker Mahmoud] al-Mashhadani slapped a fellow Sunni lawmaker in the face and called him “scum” at the end of a raucous session. The sitting had already been cut short when many lawmakers left the chamber to protest the speaker’s claim that three-quarters of them were responsible for the sectarian killings and cleansing…

The speaker’s behavior appears increasingly erratic, but he has company in actions that disturb the public. Some lawmakers have tried to push through legislation granting them financial and other perks. Neither engenders confidence among Iraq’s people.

Sessions frequently descend in to fiery but pointless shouting matches and name-calling…

What’s more, many of Iraq’s heavyweight politicians rarely attend sessions. The list is long and includes former president Ghazi al-Yawer, former Shiite prime ministers Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and senior Sunni statesman Adnan Pachachi.