Can Iraq's security forces break the militias' stranglehold on Basra?

The Iraqi army launched one of its largest assaults to flush out Shia militias in Basra on Tuesday.

It comes at a time of relative calm in the south, with one main militia, the Mahdi Army, observing a six-month ceasefire.

The assault is significant, however, because it is the first time an operation of this kind has been led and conducted by Iraqi security forces without foreign intervention.
 
Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, is in Basra supervising the operation. And he has given Basra's militias until Saturday morning to lay down their weapons.
 
This battle for Basra is seen as key to breaking up the lucrative networks of smuggled drugs, oil and guns that run through the strategic southern city.
 
But can Iraq's security forces break the militias' stranglehold on Basra once and for all?
 
Does this spell a new dawn for Iraq, or are we likely to witness a rise in sectarian violence?

Inside Story investigates.

Watch part one of this episode of Inside Story on YouTube

This episode of Inside Story aired on Wednesday, March 26, 2008 at 17:30 GMT
 

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