Basra in the grip of militias
In recent months, rival Shia factions have been battling for control of the city which is considered the second largest in the country and home to Iraq's only port.
This makes the Basra a vital outlet to the Gulf for marine transportation of oil and fuel products – a lucrative prize for any political faction looking to consolidate its power in Baghdad.
The ensuing power struggle has led to an exodus of Sunni, Shia and Christian families northwards and often out of the country.
Earlier this week, Major-General Jalil Khalaf, commander of the Basra police department, admitted for the first time that the militias have proven too strong for – and often infiltrated - his forces. Read more