Election success pave way for the leaving of Basra

Basra's elections passed without major incident this weekend setting the tone for the British end game in Iraq.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's sweeping victory in the provincial elections, in which voters chose secular and nationalist parties over religious ones, was reflected in the country's second largest city, where initial reports suggest his list has claimed 50 per cent of the vote.

The relatively peaceful passing of the election set the right tone for the withdrawal of British forces, who are due to leave by the end of July.

UK soldiers, who have assisted in planning and mentoring the Iraqi security services, were on standby to assist with any outbreaks of violence but weren't needed.

This was the first election to be secured by the Iraqis themselves as well as the first to be run by the Iraqis, through the Iraqi International High Electoral Commission.

It has also been the first election where Basrawis voted on the performance of elected officials (the last provincial elections were in 2005) and the first time all the ethnic groups participated (the last time the Sunnis boycotted the elections).

Mr Maliki called the polls "a victory for all the Iraqis" while Prime Minister Gordon Brown Gordon Brown said: "That so many Iraqis once again braved the threat of intimidation to vote in provincial elections sends the clearest possible signal of their commitment to Iraq's sovereign, democratic future."

In Basra all leave was cancelled for the 28,000 Iraqi police and soldiers in the lead up to the voting and a hotline encouraged locals to tip the security services off to any militia activity.

British Military operations will end by 31 May and the remaining 4,100 service personnel will leave within two months. Several hundred trainers will remain, some working with the Iraqi navy.

Violence in the city has dropped dramatically since last March when Iraqi forces, backed by Americans and Brits broke the militias stronghold.