Somalia tense after Islamists vanish
- Ethiopian forces supporting the government have routed the Islamists,
but are seen locally as occupiers.
Somalia tense after Islamists vanish
By Rob Crilly
January 03, 2007
The Christian Science Monitor
MOGADISHU, SOMALIA For six months Somalia's Islamists used freelance
warlord Mohamed Qanyare Afrah's home as one of their bases as they
took over much of the country. They used his many battlewagons and
held meetings in his living room.
Last week, they fled an onslaught led by troops from neighboring
Ethiopia with Somalian government forces.
Mr. Qanyare is grateful but only up to a point. "What I say is
Ethiopia should not interfere in Somalian politics," he says. "They
can stay as long as they are fighting Al Qaeda - that is a problem for
the entire region. But if they try to become involved in our politics
then we will oppose them."
Ethiopia's preemptive offensive signals the opening of a new front in
the global struggle against Islamist militants. And the speed of the
Islamists' retreat is reminiscent of how insurgencies began in both
Iraq and Afghanistan, say analysts. Now, victory may hinge upon
whether warlords like Qanyare support occupying Ethiopian forces or
For now Qanyare says his opposition to Ethiopians would be political.
But his armored personnel carrier sits in silent threat outside his
door. At his gate, a young boy holds a machine gun.
And 50 of his "technicals" - pickup trucks mounted with heavy-caliber
machine guns - sit around the corner from the whitewashed house, six
miles from Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.
Bitter rivalry with Ethiopia
Ethiopian forces are not popular in this battle-scarred land. Many in
Mogadishu see them as an invading force rather than a liberating
power. This is due to a longstanding, bitter rivalry between Ethiopia
- a country with a large Christian population - and mostly Muslim
Somalia. The countries fought two wars in the last 45 years, and
Somalia still lays claim to territories in Ethiopia.
Diplomats want an international peacekeeping force to replace
But for now, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi is reliant on Ethiopia's
tanks and artillery to keep his fractious nation in line.
They propelled his meager government forces across Somalia and into
the capital, which the Islamists held for more than six months,
raising fears that an African Taliban would seek to make the Horn of
Africa a haven for Al Qaeda.
Some analysts warn that Mr. Gedi is not doing enough to prepare for
the Ethiopians' withdrawal - promised in a matter of weeks.
They warn that without the Ethiopians, his feeble government will be
left trying to fill a political vacuum that could let in the return of
the warlords and clan militias who held Somalia in anarchy for 15
years - or even allow the Islamists to rise again.
Already Mogadishu has returned to the fear and lawlessness it knew
before the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) imposed its version of order.
Tuesday, Gedi told journalists his foreign allies would not leave
before their work was done.
"The Ethiopians will leave when we have cleared our territory of
terrorists and when we have pacified our capital," he said.
That will take "a week, or weeks, or months, not more."
So far he is pursuing a two-pronged strategy to promote peace.
He has asked the African Union to send peacekeepers and has declared a
three-day amnesty for gun owners to give up their firearms.
There were no takers at the Villa Baidoa Tuesday - an old presidential
villa designated as one of two collection centers.
"We haven't even taken a pistol," said a Somalian government soldier.
In a city where AK-47s cost $150, most families and businesses rely on
one for protection.
Arabey Ma'Alim Abdulle, who coordinates security in the donkey-clogged
streets that make up Bakaara market, says he only needed a torch and a
nightstick when the Islamists were in power.
Now he has no intention of giving up his gun.
Matt Bryden, consultant to the International Crisis Group, says Gedi's
government is following the wrong strategy.
"It should be concentrating on winning over the Hawiye clan - the main
support base for the [Islamists] - by bringing them into some sort of
government of national reconciliation," he says.
"You have a state of confrontation between the Hawiye and the
government and that's where a settlement has to be pursued," he said.
"That means some sort of settlement that makes the Hawiye feel like
they are part of the government."
That would mean Gedi - himself a Hawiye but largely despised by his
kinsmen as a weak and ineffectual leader - losing his position, which
is not on the table, added Mr. Bryden.
Ethiopian troops keep a low profile
Tuesday, Somalia's Ethiopian guardians kept a low profile in Mogadishu.
Two tanks guarded the airport runway and a contingent of soldiers was
at the port.
The main Ethiopian firepower is based in Afgooye, about 10 miles from
Mogadishu, or has followed the Islamists south.
In the south, they managed to rout the Islamist forces, forcing them
out of their main stronghold of Kismayo. From there the Islamists have
disappeared into the forests of Ras Kaambooni, close to the Kenyan border.
Hussein Aideed, deputy prime minister, admits the government now faces
a tough challenge. "To clear [the Islamists] will take a long time. It
will not be days this time, but maybe three or four months," he says.
Meanwhile, in parts of Mogadishu, Somalis are reverting to the lives
they lived before Islamic law was imposed. Western music has returned
to the Global Dancehall, where Somalis welcomed the new year.
When the Islamists were in control, staff were forced to play
traditional music and keep the volume down.
Still, freedom to party won't erase the worries Somalis have about a
return to anarchy now that the Islamists are gone. "As a businessman,
I want stability," shouts Mustafa Haji Abdullahi, the 22-year-old
chief operating officer of Telcom Somalia, above a blaring hit by US
rapper 50 Cent. "I'm already back to paying bribes."
Now everyone is waiting to see whether the government can consolidate
its position or whether it would disintegrate under the pressure of
Somalia's bloody history.
"All it would take is for one Ethiopian soldier to make a mistake, to
shoot someone, to be accused of rape, and then it is all over," says
Mr. Abdullahi. "We would be in for another 16 years of mayhem."
Return of Warlords as Somali Capital Is Captured
By Xan Rice
The Guardian UK
Friday 29 December 2006
Islamists retreat in face of Ethiopian tanks. Looting begins as
control of city is reclaimed.
Ethiopian tanks rolled into the outskirts of the Somali capital,
Mogadishu, yesterday after Somalia's Islamist movement abandoned its
bases in the city.
Somali government forces and their Ethiopian allies were wresting
back control over Mogadishu as Islamist fighters, surrounded and
outgunned, fled in convoy early in the morning towards the southern
port city of Kismayo, the only town now controlled by the Somali
Council of Islamic Courts. Other militiamen discarded their uniforms
and joined clan-based militias in the capital. A number of Islamist
leaders left the country.
Gunfire echoed around the capital as news of the withdrawal
spread. SCIC bases were looted and several people were killed in a
return to the anarchy that plagued the city before the courts came to
power six months ago. Within hours, warlords who had been driven out
by the Islamists were reclaiming their turf, including the
presidential palace and the city's main port.
Somali prime minister Ali Mohamad Gedi said parliament would
impose three months of martial law to prevent a return to anarchy. "In
order to restore security we need a strong hand, especially with
freelance militias," he told reporters.
The Islamists' dramatic retreat took many by surprise. Nine days
ago they had surrounded the government base of Baidoa and controlled
most of south-central Somalia. Despite their retreat after aerial
assaults from Ethiopia, which is supporting Somalia's weak
transitional government, the Islamists had been expected to defend the
Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, head of the SCIC's executive
committee, told Al-Jazeera television the decision to leave Mogadishu
was made to prevent civilian bloodshed. "We have withdrawn all the
leaders and members who worked in the capital. Mogadishu is now in chaos."
Mr Ahmed, who was believed to have arrived in the Kenyan capital,
Nairobi, later in the day, said the Islamists were still united and
would eventually repel the Ethiopian forces. But with the
pro-government alliance entering parts of Mogadishu in the early
evening, it appeared the courts had been dealt a severe, perhaps
The Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, indicated that the
military offensive, which has already claimed hundreds of lives, was
not over. "The [SCIC] leaders, Eritreans and international jihadists
are fleeing ... but we'll continue to pursue them - that's our agenda."
Ethiopia has been wary of the Islamists since they come to power
in June, defeating a coalition of warlords. The SCIC immediately
established law and order in the capital and their leaders said they
wanted to make the country an Islamic state. But one European diplomat
said yesterday: "The extreme elements have not disappeared into thin
air. They may still try to turn the country into another Afghanistan."
The government's alliances with warlords that were ousted by the
Islamists also left analysts uneasy. "If this just means that the
warlords are on their way back, then it's all pretty depressing," said
another western diplomat.
The UN said last night it was readying a resumption of its aid
operation in Somalia, where more than half a million people have been
receiving emergency supplies. But many have chosen to flee. Yesterday,
there were fears for 160 refugees after the UN agency said at least 17
people died and 140 were missing after two boats packed with Somalis
sank off the coast of Yemen.
Yemeni security forces had opened fire on smugglers ferrying more
than 500 people. Many of the survivors said they had been fleeing the
conflict, and the UN fears the upsurge in fighting could create a new
wave of refugees.
What Might Happen Next?
1. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is weak and
largely unpopular, comes to a power-sharing agreement with the
powerful Hawiye clan in Mogadishu and installs a functioning
administration in the capital. Ethiopian forces withdraw. By
negotiating with clans in Somalia's other important cities, the TFG
begins to exert some form of central authority, putting the country on
the path to normality.
2. Ethiopia withdraws its troops and the TFG is unable to exert
any real authority beyond its base of Baidoa. In the vacuum created by
the Islamists' departure, power reverts to clan-based warlords who
have held sway in Somalia for the past 16 years. The anarchic
situation that existed before the Somali Council of Islamic Courts
(SCIC) rose to power in Mogadishu returns.
3. The remnants of the SCIC, in particular the militant Shabaab
wing, regroup to wage guerrilla war against the government - and the
Ethiopians, if they stay. Eritrea and other Arab states continue to
sponsor the Islamists. Somalia becomes a magnet for foreign militants
keen to help local fighters establish an Islamic state.
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