In an emarrassing U-turn for Iraq’s central government, security forces that were deployed earlier this month in the country’s south have been pulled out due to pressure from Shia militias.

The troops were deployed in an effort to reduce the frequency of tribal disputes, but were removed before they had managed to achieve their objective, according to a security source.

“The additional forces, including elements of the Al-Rafidayn division from Dhi Qar and Missan were… withdrawn after just over a week, following reports of disagreements with Popular Mobilisation Unit [PMU] members over weapons confiscations,” said the source.

“While the deployment of the extra forces was intended as a show of force by the federal government in dealing with tribal conflict, their subsequent withdrawal appears to have been intended to avoid further disagreements with local PMUs.”

PMUs are state-sponsored military groups external to the regular armed forces, and whose members are almost exclusively Shia.

On 15 January, Iraq announced it had sent the extra troops into the southern oil city of Basra to try and ease escalating tensions between rival Shia tribes.

Officials said the security operation targeted areas north of Basra, including the Al-Hussein area, where there had been frequent tribal clashes.

The forces, armed with tanks and heavy machine guns, raided houses and seized weapons including rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), assault rifles and ammunition.

On 15 January, officials said more than 30 people were detained on criminal charges.

The Al-Hussein area lies between Basra city and the West Qurna-2 oil field, which is operated by Russia’s Lukoil.

In August, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited the West Qurna-2 field to reassure Lukoil amid concerns that unrest in the region could affect production.