For the first time since the start of the Iraq war there is real hope that Basra may calm down. The Al-Sadr militia has been dealt a military blow and a religious one as well since the Grand Ayatolla told them to chill out (GREAT NEWS-Preeminent Iraqi Shi’a Cleric Tells al Sadr to Observe Rule of Law). None of this could have happened had the British not cut and run out of the region. Apparently the British treated al-Sadr’s terrorists the same way they have been handling Muslim terrorism for the last century, APPEASEMENT:

British accused of appeasing Shia militia in Basra James Hider

In Basra the signs of the feared militia are slowly receding. For the first time in years alcohol vendors are selling beer close to army checkpoints, and ringtones praising the rebel cleric Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr are vanishing from mobile phones. Music shops are once again selling pop tunes instead of the recorded lectures of Shia ayatollahs. But, as the city cautiously comes back to life after an offensive by Iraqi troops backed by hundreds of US soldiers, there is a lingering resentment towards the British Army. Many here blame the British for allowing the al-Mahdi Army and other militias to impose a long reign of terror on the once cosmopolitan city. The battle for Basra is still not over. An American airstrike yesterday killed another six men who had been attacking Iraqi troops from the militia’s hold-out areas, which the Army has so far been unable to penetrate. Support is, though, slowly building for Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, who led his troops into Basra having given his US allies barely more than a weekend’s notice of the impending attack. The British were informed only a day before, prompting Lieutenant-General Peter Wall, the deputy chief of staff, to describe the whole operation as “hastily planned”. “After the Iraqi Army set up checkpoints and the militia disappeared from the streets, I decided to start selling alcohol,” Luay Hanna, a 46-year-old liquor store owner, said. His shop was burnt down by fundamentalist militiamen three years ago, and many of his colleagues were butchered. “Many of the alcohol sellers reopened their shops. We always sell near the Iraqi army checkpoints to be safe – not like before when the militia killed and kidnapped people right in front of the police’s eyes.” Qaldoon Nuri, who runs a CD shop, was forced to stop selling pop songs for fear of the zealous gunmen four years ago. One of his friends was murdered for refusing to heed the ban. He was forced to sell religious songs, many of them praising al-Sadr, as well as lectures on tenets of the Shia faith. “The militia forced us to follow a fanatic Islamic code. They forced us to put up pictures of the imams,” he said. “Now after the militias have been defeated by government forces, we started to put some songs on CD and are looking for what’s new in the arts – what people actually like.” One of his neighbours, Saleh Muhammad, has been badgered in his phone shop by customers demanding new pop ringtones and pictures of female singers to download. “I think it’s freedom from the fear,” he said. The British have been unable to bask in even the partial success of the battle. Having abruptly decided to take on the militias after years of appeasing them, Mr al-Maliki’s first venture on to the battlefield was plagued by desertions from his security forces and stronger than expected resistance. Outfought, he called on US forces for support rather than the 4,100 British troops who have barely left their base at Basra airfield. When the British commanding officer visited the Prime Minister’s field headquarters during the fight he was left waiting outside by the Iraqi leader. The humiliating snub was believed to be payback for an alleged deal with the militias by British forces, who released several of their jailed leaders and agreed not to attack them if the British base was not hit. “I think the British troops were the main reason that militias became very powerful,” complained Inas Abed Ali, a teacher. “They didn’t fight them properly and, when they found themselves losing in the city, they moved out to the airport and chose to negotiate with the militias and criminal groups as if they were legal.” “The British Army had no role in Basra,” Rahman Hadi, a coffee shop owner, said. “We haven’t seen any achievements by them in the streets of Basra. I don’t know why their troops didn’t respond to the acts of these militias for long years, after seeing all the suffering that Basra people went through.” Even senior Iraqi officers admitted that the hands-off British approach to policing the city had given the militias free rein. Brigadier Alaa al-Ittabi, from the infantry command of the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, said that the British Army “was sometimes negatively lenient, like the way they dealt with the militias”. Mr Hadi was placing his hopes on the new Iraqi forces. “The presence of these foreign troops adds nothing to the situation, and even the Iraqi troops trained by the British Army proved to be infiltrated by the militias and to be corrupt.” General David Petraeus, the US commander here, said that the Iraqi Army’s initial performance in Basra had been disappointing and gave warning that the battle could last months. Brigadier al-Ittabi attributed the mass desertions at the outset to the deployment of local forces who were unwilling to fight their neighbours and whose families were vulnerable to militia threats. Sources in Basra said that the Iraqi troops started to gain traction only after Mr al-Maliki drafted in two extra brigades, one from the Sunni city of Ramadi and the other from Karbala, where the al-Mahdi Army’s rival militia, the Badr Brigades – loyal to the main Shia party in Mr al-Maliki’s Government – holds sway. Some observers have described the battle in Basra, which has also sparked fighting in the al-Mahdi Army’s main stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, as a power struggle between the anti-US Sadrists, with strong grassroots support among poor Shia, and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which runs the Badr militia and has long co-operated with the US military. That theory was lent weight yesterday when unidentified gunmen shot down Hojatoleslam al-Sadr’s brother- in-law, who ran his office in the Shia holy city of Najaf, where the Badr forces are strong. KEY BATTLES2003 March 21 US and British forces enter Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city March 27 British troops destroy 14 Iraqi tanks in what was described as the biggest British tank battle since the Second World War. Army describes breaking Baath party rule in Basra as its “primary focus” April 6 Basra falls, the first major city to come under coalition control 2004 April 21 Suicide bombers mount their deadliest attacks to date in Basra with a series of car bombs, killing 74 at police stations and a police training centre 2006 May 31 A month-long state of emergency is declared after sectarian clashes which result in the deaths of more than 100 people 2007 September 3 The last British troops withdraw from Basra Palace to an airbase outside the city December 16 Britain hands control to Iraqi authorities March 25 Iraqi troops backed by US forces launch attacks against Shia militias Source: Times archives