BASRA….The British handed control of Basra over to the Iraqis yesterday, and here’s what the local police chief told the LA Times about the transfer:

Maj. Gen. Abdul Jalil Khalaf, police commander of Basra, said he did not expect an escalation in violence because Iraqi forces have been in control of the city since Britain started its troop pullout in September.

….”There are no militias controlling the streets of Basra anymore,” Khalaf said. “Now, only the law and security forces have control over the streets.”

That sounds hopeful. But here’s what the very same police chief told the Guardian:

“They left me militia, they left me gangsters, and they left me all the troubles in the world,” he said in an interview for Guardian Films and ITV….In the film, to be broadcast on the Guardian Unlimited website and ITV News, Khalaf lists a catalogue of failings, saying:

  • Basra has become so lawless that in the last three months 45 women have been killed for being “immoral” because they were not fully covered or because they may have given birth outside wedlock;

  • The British unintentionally rearmed Shia militias by failing to recognise that Iraqi troops were loyal to more than one authority;

  • Shia militia are better armed than his men and control Iraq’s main port.

In the interview he said the main problem the Iraqi security forces now faced was the struggle to wrest control back from the militia.

So what’s the story? Do militias control Basra or not? I can’t say for sure, but here’s one hint: even in the optimistic LA Times story, there’s a telling note: “The fact that the [handover] ceremony was held not in the city, but in an airport lounge with signs for ‘international baggage claim’ and ‘passport control’ leading to the venue, underscored the state of security in town.” Indeed.

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