Losing Control of Basra

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The funnel-shaped southern region of Iraq contains energy, water and strategic wealth without parallel anywhere else in the country. In fact, some analysts think Iraq would not be viable without it.

But when British military forces clashed with members of a Shiite militia called the Mahdi Army in Basra last week, it was clear how far the south's most important city had slipped from the control of political leaders in Baghdad and into the hands of warlords and local religious chiefs.

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