Prospect Magazine has an excellent article about the political situation in Southern Iraq. I have done enough homework to know that the substance is on target. It may not be pretty, but it is correct. The shape of what we call "democracy" is not the same there as in the US.
Abu akil is a typical leader of one of the three groups that now dominate politics in southern Iraq and were associated with the recent conflict with the coalition. These are Da'wa, SCIRI/Badr and the Sadrists. They have militias which are effectively outside the law and have filled the police and the ministries with allies. Sadrists govern two of the four southern provinces and Badr men the other two. With Da'wa (one branch of which is led by Abu Akil) these Islamic parties have taken almost every seat in the south in both the national and provincial parliaments.
Any understanding of the current situation in Iraq depends on a detailed knowledge of these parties. But, as my conversation with Abu Akil indicated, it is difficult to define the differences between them. This is as true for Iraqis as it is for foreigners. The leaders are reluctant to emphasise the differences between their groups, keen to conceal their more extreme views fromthe more moderate electorate and, most importantly, having led covert insurgency organisations for 20 years, are accustomed to keeping their programmes secret. Like tribes rather than political parties, the clearest differences between them lie more in history and leadership than in policy.
That's enough to get you started. It's a lot more complicated than that, but learning about these three components is the foundation.
(Thanks Aqoul, who got it from Belgravia Dispatch. That's not a bad pedigree for an internet piece.)