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Somalia Repels US-Backed Warlords

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    Islamists claim Mogadishu victory Monday, 5 June 2006 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/5047766.stm An Islamist militia says it has seized Somalia s capital,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 2006
      Islamists claim Mogadishu victory
      Monday, 5 June 2006

      An Islamist militia says it has seized Somalia's capital, Mogadishu,
      after weeks of fighting against an alliance of warlords allegedly
      backed by the US.

      The warlords have controlled the capital since they toppled Somalia's
      last effective government 15 years ago.

      Talks are taking place with fighters still loyal to the warlords,
      Union of Islamic Courts officials said.

      Interim Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi says his government wants to
      begin dialogue with the group.

      Earlier, Mr Ghedi sacked four powerful Mogadishu-based warlords who
      had been serving as ministers.

      Nine of the 11 Mogadishu-based warlords have now left the city,
      reports the BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan.

      The four sacked ministers include Security Minister Mohammed Qanyare
      Afrah and Trade Minister Muse Sudi Yalahow who over the weekend lost
      control of their Mogadishu strongholds.

      Most of Mr Qanyare Afrah's fighters have joined the Islamic militia,
      but Mr Sudi Yalahow and his commanders remain in the capital and are
      locked in talks over their next move.

      This year's clashes in the capital have been the most serious for more
      than a decade, with some 330 people killed and about 1,500 injured in
      the past month.

      Warlords retreat

      In a statement read over local radio stations, the Union of Islamic
      Courts leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said the control of Mogadishu
      by warlords was over and he urged residents to accept the new leadership.

      "The Union of Islamic Courts are not interested in a continuation of
      hostilities and will fully implement peace and security after the
      change has been made by the victory of the people with the support of
      Allah," he said.

      "This is a new era for Mogadishu," he told AFP news agency, adding
      that the Islamic Courts were ready for dialogue.

      It's good to see conflict resolved but I don't want to celebrate a
      temporary victory

      Hawa Ismail Qorey,
      Mogadishu housewife

      In pictures: Militia 'victory'

      Local people in Mogadishu gave a cautious welcome to the news.

      "They said they would work with residents to improve security in the
      capital," city resident Ali Abdikadir told Reuters news agency.

      "This is good news for us because the warlords were always engaged in
      battles. We are looking forward to a life without fighting."

      Sharia law concerns

      But some seemed unconvinced that the weeks of bloodshed were really over.

      "It's good to see conflict resolved but I don't want to celebrate a
      temporary victory," housewife Hawa Ismail Qorey told AFP. "Mogadishu
      is witnessing political history but it may be good or it may be bad."

      Facts and figures about life in Somalia


      And others expressed concern about what the future might hold with
      Islamists who want to introduce Sharia law in control.

      "What I am afraid of is if they interfere with the education system
      and bring religion by force to the schools," Asha Idris, a mother of
      five, told AFP.

      On Saturday, UN aid workers pulled out of Jowhar, some 90km (56 miles)
      north of Mogadishu, in case the fighting spread there.

      The violence began earlier this year when warlords who had divided
      Mogadishu into fiefdoms united to form the Anti-Terrorism Alliance to
      tackle the Islamic Courts, who they accused of sheltering foreign
      al-Qaeda militants.

      The Islamic Courts deny this. They were originally set up in Mogadishu
      as a grassroots movement by businessmen to establish some law and
      order in a city without any judicial system.

      The head of the BBC's Somali service described the rise of the Islamic
      Courts as a popular uprising.

      The Islamic Courts have long said the warlords in the Anti-Terror
      Alliance were being backed by the US.

      Washington merely says it will support those trying to stop people it
      considers terrorists setting up in Somalia but stresses its commitment
      to the country's transitional government, which functions from Baidoa,
      250km (155 miles) north-west of the capital.

      President Abdullahi Yusuf had urged the US to channel its campaign
      against Somalia's Islamists through his government, rather than the


      By Emily Wax and Karen DeYoung
      Washington Post
      Wednesday, May 17, 2006; A01

      More than a decade after U.S. troops withdrew from Somalia following a
      disastrous military intervention, officials of Somalia's interim
      government and some U.S. analysts of Africa policy say the United
      States has returned to the African country, secretly supporting
      secular warlords who have been waging fierce battles against Islamic
      groups for control of the capital, Mogadishu.

      The latest clashes, last week and over the weekend, were some of the
      most violent in Mogadishu since the end of the American intervention
      in 1994, and left 150 dead and hundreds more wounded. Leaders of the
      interim government blamed U.S. support of the militias for provoking
      the clashes.

      U.S. officials have declined to directly address on the record the
      question of backing Somali warlords, who have styled themselves as a
      counterterrorism coalition in an open bid for American support.
      Speaking to reporters recently, State Department spokesman Sean
      McCormack said the United States would "work with responsible
      individuals . . . in fighting terror. It's a real concern of ours --
      terror taking root in the Horn of Africa. We don't want to see another
      safe haven for terrorists created. Our interest is purely in seeing
      Somalia achieve a better day."

      U.S. officials have long feared that Somalia, which has had no
      effective government since 1991, is a desirable place for al-Qaeda
      members to hide and plan attacks. The country is strategically located
      on the Horn of Africa, which is only a boat ride away from Yemen and a
      longtime gateway to Africa from the Middle East. No visas are needed
      to enter Somalia, there is no police force and no effective central

      The country has a weak transitional government operating largely out
      of neighboring Kenya and the southern city of Baidoa. Most of Somalia
      is in anarchy, ruled by a patchwork of competing warlords; the capital
      is too unsafe for even Somalia's acting prime minister to visit.

      Leaders of the transitional government said they have warned U.S.
      officials that working with the warlords is shortsighted and dangerous.

      "We would prefer that the U.S. work with the transitional government
      and not with criminals," the prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, said in
      an interview. "This is a dangerous game. Somalia is not a stable place
      and we want the U.S. in Somalia. But in a more constructive way.
      Clearly we have a common objective to stabilize Somalia, but the U.S.
      is using the wrong channels."

      Many of the warlords have their own agendas, Somali officials said,
      and some reportedly fought against the United States in 1993 during
      street battles that culminated in an attack that downed two U.S. Black
      Hawk helicopters and left 18 Army Rangers dead.

      "The U.S. government funded the warlords in the recent battle in
      Mogadishu, there is no doubt about that," government spokesman
      Abdirahman Dinari told journalists by telephone from Baidoa. "This
      cooperation . . . only fuels further civil war."

      U.S. officials have refused repeated requests to provide details about
      the nature and extent of their support for the coalition of warlords,
      which calls itself the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and
      Counter-Terrorism in what some Somalis say is a marketing ploy to get
      U.S. support.

      But some U.S. officials, who declined to be identified by name because
      of the sensitivity of the issue, have said they are generally talking
      to these leaders to prevent people with suspected ties to al-Qaeda
      from being given safe haven in the lawless country.

      "There are complicated issues in Somalia in that the government does
      not control Mogadishu and it has the potential for becoming a safe
      haven for al-Qaeda and like-minded terrorists," said one senior
      administration official in Washington. "We've got very clear interests
      in trying to ensure that al-Qaeda members are not using it to hide and
      to plan attacks." He said it was "a very difficult issue" trying to
      show support for the fledgling interim government while also working
      to prevent Somalia from becoming an al-Qaeda base.

      A senior U.S. intelligence official, who also spoke on condition of
      anonymity, said it was a "Hobbesian" situation -- that the
      transitional government operating from Kenya was in its "fifteenth
      iteration" and that it, too, was a "collection of warlords" that
      played both sides of the fence. The official said that it presented a
      classic "enemy of our enemy" situation.

      The source said Somalia was "not an al-Qaeda safe haven" yet, adding,
      "There are some there, but it's so dysfunctional." U.S. officials
      specifically believe that a small number of al-Qaeda operatives who
      were involved in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi
      and Tanzania are now residing in Somalia.

      Analysts said they were convinced the Bush administration was backing
      the warlords as part of its global war against terrorism.

      "The U.S. relies on buying intelligence from warlords and other
      participants in the Somali conflict, and hoping that the strongest of
      the warlords can snatch a live suspect or two if the intelligence
      identifies their whereabouts," said John Prendergast, the director for
      African affairs in the Clinton administration and now a senior adviser
      at the nongovernmental International Crisis Group. "This strategy
      might reduce the short-term threat of another terrorist attack in East
      Africa, but in the long term the conditions which allow terrorist
      cells to take hold along the Indian Ocean coastline go unaddressed. We
      ignore these conditions at our peril."

      "Are we talking to them and doing some of that? Yes," said Ted Dagne,
      the leading Africa analyst for the Congressional Research Service. "We
      fought some of these warlords in 1993 and now we are dealing with some
      of them again, perhaps supporting some of them against other groups.
      Somalia is still considered by some as an attractive location for
      terrorist groups."

      The issue of U.S. backing came to the forefront this winter when
      warlords formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and
      Counter-Terrorism after a fundamentalist Islamic group began asserting
      itself in the capital, setting up courts of Islamic law and building
      schools and hospitals.

      Soon after, the coalition of warlords were well-equipped with
      rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and antiaircraft guns, which were
      used in heavy fighting in the capital last week. It was the second
      round of fighting this year, following clashes in March that killed
      more than 90 people, mostly civilians, and emptied neighborhoods
      around the capital.

      In a report to the U.N. Security Council this month, the world body's
      monitoring group on Somalia said it was investigating an unnamed
      country's secret support for an anti-terrorism alliance in apparent
      violation of a U.N. arms embargo.

      The experts said they were told in January and February of this year
      that "financial support was being provided to help organize and
      structure a militia force created to counter the threat posed by the
      growing militant fundamentalist movement in central and southern Somalia."

      In March, the State Department said in its terrorism report that the
      U.S. government was concerned about al-Qaeda fugitives "responsible
      for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es
      Salaam and the November 2002 bombing of a tourist hotel and attack on
      a civilian airliner in Kenya, who are believed to be operating in and
      around Somalia."

      The United States relies on Ethiopia and Kenya for information about
      Somalia. Both countries have complex interests and long-standing ties
      and animosities in the country. In December 2002, the United States
      also established an anti-terrorism task force in neighboring Djibouti,
      with up to 1,600 U.S. troops stationed in the country.

      Africa researchers said they were concerned that while the Bush
      administration was focused on the potential terrorist threat, little
      was being done to support economic development initiatives that could
      provide alternative livelihoods to picking up a gun or following
      extremist ideologies in Somalia. Somalia watchers and Somalis
      themselves said there has not been enough substantial backing for
      building a new government after 15 years of collapsed statehood.

      "If the real problem is Somalia, then what have we done to change the
      situation inside Somalia? Are we funding schools, health care or
      helping establish an effective government?" Dagne said. "We have a
      generation of Somali kids growing up without education and only
      knowing violence and poverty. Unless there is a change, these could
      become the next warlords out of necessity for survival. That's perhaps
      the greatest threat we have yet to address."

      Somalis far from the factional fighting in Mogadishu said they were
      waiting for anyone to help ease their destitute lives during the worst
      drought in a decade.

      In Waajid, a dusty town about 200 miles northwest of the capital,
      thousands of villagers have left their farms for squalid camps,
      searching for water and living in open, rocky fields under low-lying,
      fragile shelters of sticks and rags that look like bird's nests.

      Many people here say they feel that the United States has ignored
      Somalia since the failed 1993 military intervention. Today many
      Somalis said they regret that chapter in their history and thank the
      United States, the largest donor of food and funding for water trucks
      during this season's drought.

      However, they said that news that the U.S. government was talking with
      warlords has awakened feelings of resentment.

      "George W. Bush, we welcome the Americans. But not to back warlords.
      We need the U.S.A. to help the young government," said Isak Nur Isak,
      the district commissioner in Waajid. "We won't drag any Americans
      through the street like in 1993. We want to be clear: We don't want
      only food aid, but we do want political support for the new
      government, which is all we have right now to put our hopes in. We
      can't eat if everyone is dead."

      Wax reported from Waajid, Somalia, and Nairobi. DeYoung reported from



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