News he giant Rumaila oilfield, near Basra, produces a third of Iraq's oil output. The British security man allegedly at the centre of religious unrest works at a camp run by oil services group Schlumberger

At a time of tremendous religious significance for the Shia, the insensitive actions of a British security man appear to have sparked a major crisis

British soldiers back in Basra as hundreds of Iraqi troops desert

British troops have returned to Basra, in a major change of policy, six months after withdrawing from the city because their presence was said to be provoking violence from the militias.

Leading article: The withdrawal that never was

The Defence Secretary, Des Browne, yesterday confirmed to a disconsolate House of Commons what had been mooted for more than a week: that the planned return of 2,500 troops from southern Iraq this spring had been placed on hold pretty much indefinitely. It was, he said, in a vintage piece of political understatement, "prudent to mark time at this stage". By "this stage" he apparently meant the recent eruption of all-out war between rival militias in Basra, and the uncertainty about how long Moqtada al-Sadr would keep his Mehdi army off the city's streets.

Troop withdrawal in Iraq delayed by Basra violence

Gordon Brown's pledge to bring home 1,500 more British troops from Iraq by the spring has been postponed indefinitely because of the deteriorating security situation in Basra.

Life in Basra: 'The masked men have vanished, but we're still trapped'

The people of Basra ventured outside for the first time in a week yesterday as the ceasefire declared by the Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr began to take hold.

Stalled assault on Basra exposes the Iraqi government's shaky authority

The Iraqi army's offensive against the Shia militia of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Basra is failing to make significant headway despite a pledge by the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to fight "to the end".

How Britain's plan to pacify south was hijacked

Britain's exit strategy from Iraq is in danger of unravelling amid the fires and destruction in Basra and the bloody internecine Shia strife spreading across the land.

Iraq implodes as Shia fights Shia

Another tragedy as the Shia majority turn on each other

The struggle to oust the militias

The "final battle for Basra" began with deafening blasts at 4.58am as units of the Iraqi army moved into al-Tamiyah, a district under the control of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army.

Miliband admits mission failures on peace

David Miliband has made his clearest acknowledgement yet that attempts to bring peace to Iraq have failed. The Foreign Secretary flatly contradicted President George Bush's claim in 2003 that it was "mission accomplished" in Iraq, telling MPs: "It is evident that the mission has not been accomplished."

Violence erupts in Basra as Iraqi forces battle Mehdi Army

The Iraqi army is fighting the Mehdi Army Shia militia in the streets of Basra after the government launched its most serious offensive to gain control of the southern oil city.

Leading article: Another illusion is shattered

When British troops handed over power in the province of Basra to the Iraqi government in December, we were told that the withdrawal was confirmation of the growing stability in the south of the country. Now we see just what nonsense that was.

Rebel militia battle for control of Basra

Iraqi forces battled with Shia militia today for control of the southern oil port of Basra.

British pull-out from Basra delayed after rise in rocket attacks

Plan to reduce forces to 2,500 by next month put off indefinitely as Iraqi troops prepare to take on militias. By Kim Sengupta

With a spring in his step, McCain jets in for No 10 'meet-and-greet'

After sitting at Gordon Brown's side in the Cabinet Room yesterday, John McCain went to the House of Commons, where a gaggle of onlookers shouted, "It's the next president of the United States!" as he was greeted by David Cameron and a line of honour of senior Tories, including William Hague, George Osborne and Liam Fox.

The final battle for Basra is near, says Iraqi general

General Mohan al-Furayji, the Iraqi commander in charge of security in the south of Iraq, has warned his troops they must prepare for the final battle to defeat the Shia militias terrorising Basra.

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