I knew it was too good to be true.

It usually is.

Shi’ite Islamist political parties are imposing strict Islamic rules in the oil-producing southern provinces of Iraq and using their armed wings to create a state of fear, a group of tribal Shi’ite leaders said.

The four tribal leaders approached Reuters on condition of anonymity, fearing assassination if their names or even their home provinces were made public.

“Fear rules the streets now,” said one of the sheikhs. “We cannot speak our minds, people are not allowed to oppose them. They would immediately disappear or get killed. The evidence of that is I am talking about it but cannot use my name.”…

“Some say the Shi’ites are lucky because they are now ruling Iraq, but that is wrong. It is the Islamist Shi’ites who are ruling Iraq. Their victory was a curse for us,” said one sheikh…

SIIC [a.k.a. SCIRI] and the Sadrists are seen by the sheikhs as importing a conservative brand of Shi’ism from neighboring Iran, which U.S. officials accuse of arming Shi’ite militias to use as proxies to enforce their influence in the south.

“We are suffering from two occupations — America and Iran. We have told American officials this and we have met some of them, but they are not listening to us,” one sheikh complained.

Reuters wants to blame the United States for this but it’s no secret who’s responsible for letting Basra disintegrate. After reading the Reuters story, I can only assume that the quiet in the city at the moment is part of some deal between SCIRI and Sadr to lie low for the time being — although to what end, I simply don’t know. I speculated last night in the Michael Yon post that they might be trying to prove that the south can govern itself as a demonstration of the benefits of federalism, but if they’re acting on behest of Iran to the extent that the sheikhs here suggest, then their top priority should be making trouble for the United States to force a humiliating withdrawal. Set Basra on fire, let the war opponents in the west crow about it and point to it as an example of how the mission has failed, and then wait for the pullout. Maybe Iran has decided that Bush is just enough of a loose cannon to bomb them if they press the issue and thus they’re opting instead for the path of least resistance, with fuller Iranian control to be asserted after we’re gone via their militia proxies?

That’s too depressing a note to end on so I’ll leave you with this, also from Reuters. Quote: “For a few months I couldn’t go home, but now there are a lot of security changes happening. I am a resident from this area, so it’s good that I’m going back to my job. We need to clean it up more as there are still bad people here.”