There have been many reports of the rise of Shia theocracy in southern Iraq. Steven Vincent has one of the better ones in today's Christian Science Monitor
"In Basra these days, it's not uncommon to see armed men from Shiite religious groups standing at the gates of Basra University, scrutinizing female students to make sure their dresses are the right length and their makeup properly modest.
Any woman violating their standards of Muslim dignity, relates Henan, a psychology student, is ordered home. "These religious militiamen tell us how to dress, and prevent us from listening to music in public or interacting with male students," she says. "It makes me burn inside."
Henan is not the only Basran furious at the extremist Shiite Muslims who now dominate this southern Iraqi port city bordering Iran. Especially among the middle and intellectual classes, an increasing drumbeat of resentment is rising about what many see as a distortion of Basra's traditionally easygoing, tolerant attitudes toward life.
"No alcohol, no music CDs, woman forced to wear hijab, people murdered in the streets - this is not the city I remember," says Samir, an editor of one of Basra's largest newspapers."
Iran's support of the region, and connection to their politicians, is giving little comfort to American authorites, Iraq's other internal ethnic groups and parties, or Iraq's Sunni neighbours.
Shia authorities in the south are now pushing for the kind of autonomy granted to the Kurds in the north. Southern Iraq holds the country's richest oil field. A good measure of that wealth, that has flowed to Baghdad and central Iraq's Sunnis over the past decades at the expense of the Shias, would stop flowing.
Old CIA friend, shia politician and current Oil Minister Ahmed Chalabi has given some support to the initiative.
In short, all signs point to a weakened Iraqi central government, ethnic divide, power and revenue sharing struggles, and inconsistent standards of democracy and law in the country.
Shia militias, like Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army, still operate. So do the Kurdish Peshmerga. And the Sunni insurgency remains potent.
It is no wonder American officials here are now bringing up the problems of sectarian tensions, quite unprompted by reporters.