Sadr Followers March Peacefully in Najaf and Kufa
After Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr declared war on the United States and called for all out resistance to the occupation of Iraq over the weekend, tens of thousands of his supporters marched in peaceful demonstrations in Najaf and Kufa on Monday, calling for an immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. Sadr himself remains in hiding, likely outside the country, and much of his militia is in dissarray as a result of recent successful coalition campaigns against Shiite militias in Baghdad and most recently Diwaniyah, but these marches show that Sadr still retains a great deal of popular support.
Despite inflammatory slogans and the presence of some armed militiamen in the crowd, the marches were nonviolent. Representatives of Shiite groups have stressed that this protest is part of an effort to pressure the United States to withdraw without resorting to violence. A US spokesman commented that the protest march was a positive sign because a peaceful protest of this sort would have been impossible under Saddam Hussein. Col. Steven Boylan commented "this is the right to assemble, the right to free speech… this is progress."
Iran Begins Industrial Scale Production of Nuclear Fuel
Ignoring international criticism and sanctions, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced on Monday that Iran had reached a point in its nuclear program where it was capable of producing nuclear fuel on an industrial scale sufficient to supply an operating reactor, a vital step towards producing fuel of a high enough quality to manufacture nuclear weapons.
Iran now has at least 3000 centrifuges in operation producing nuclear fuel, a goal which they set when they began their nuclear development program. President Admedinejad stressed that their intentions for the use of their nuclear fuel are entirely peaceful and that their intention is not to manufacture weapons. Actual production of weapons grade fuel will require considerably more centrifuges or an operational reactor, but Iran's technological infrastructure is such that rapid advancement to that state is quite feasible. This announcement was met with concern and condemnation from representatives of the United Nations and concerned nations around the world.
Operation Black Eagle Showing "Great Success"
Following on the success of heightened operations to bring peace and order to Baghdad, the Iraqi Army and Coalition forces are now in their third day of fighting to subdue militia groups in the city of Diwaniyah. The assault is being spearheaded by the Iraqi 8th Army whose commander commented "So far, we have achieved great success fighting the terrorists." Successes include the discovery of large caches of weapons and several factories which had been manufaturing IEDs.
Diwaniyah has been a center or Shiite militia violence and has been particularly plagued by fighting between rival Shiite militia groups loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr and Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim. Remnants of Sadr's hard-pressed Mahdi Army driven out of other areas have taken refuge in Diwaniyah. The pacification of Diwaniyah is the second phase in ongoing efforts to bring peace to central Iraq and follows the same techniques used successfully in Baghdad, including house-to-house searches, numerous checkpoints to control the flow of traffic, and the use of overwhelming military force on pockets of resistence.