Friday, February 23, 2007

''Somalia Reverts to Political Fragmentation''

If you're a serious Somalia watcher, I strongly recommend you read PINR's in-depth examination of the post-intervention tragedy now unfolding in that country. Here are its introductory paragraphs (to jump to the complete article, click here or on the title line above):

During the first three weeks of February, Somalia continued its slide into political fragmentation as violent attacks against occupying Ethiopian forces and militias loyal to the Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) persisted on a nearly daily basis, inter-clan fighting continued to break out, and the level of crime increased.

Although the T.F.G. claimed to be in control of security in the official capital Mogadishu, local media reported that its forces were failing to patrol the streets and that the Ethiopians were remaining in their bases, which came under attack, leading to exchanges of artillery fire that resulted in scores of deaths and injuries, mainly suffered by civilians. With approval of and pressure from the T.F.G., neighborhoods and businesses recruited their own security forces, restoring the situation that existed before the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.) had made its unsuccessful bid to unify Somalia in an Islamic state during the last half of 2006.

As the T.F.G. proved unable to establish itself as a legitimate and effective governing authority, external actors -- international and regional organizations, Western donor powers, and regional states -- continued to urge the T.F.G. to initiate reconciliation talks that would include conciliatory elements of the formally disbanded I.C.C. and would be geared to the formation of a national unity government, and to press for the deployment of an African Union (A.U.) "stabilization mission" (AMISOM) that would protect the T.F.G. and train its security forces. Although halting progress was made toward both goals, neither had as yet been realized, due to the reluctance of the T.F.G. to share power and of African states to contribute troops to the mission and donor powers to fund it adequately.

Ethiopia, whose invasion of Somalia in December 2006 had defeated the I.C.C. and whose troops and armor had been propping up the T.F.G. since then, had declared that it would pull out of the country in mid-February, but kept its forces there under Western pressure when AMISOM did not materialize as quickly as hoped. Some Ethiopian withdrawals were reported in local media, but they were only of marginal significance.

The T.F.G. failed to make progress on its top priority of disarming independent clan-based militias, which the United Nations reported were once again falling under the control of warlords who had divided Somalia into fiefdoms before the rise of the I.C.C., and suppressing criminal groups and the militant elements of the I.C.C.

The judgment of PINR's February 2 report on Somalia that the country had entered a devolutionary cycle has been confirmed during the past three weeks. Addis Ababa is satisfied with a fragmented Somalia, Western powers and international organizations have not made stabilizing the country a high priority, African states are either unwilling to contribute troops to a conflict zone or will only sign on to a restricted mission, and the T.F.G. is resistant to "inclusive" reconciliation.
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"Relative success" in Somalia

I sent the following letter to the editor of the New York Times this morning, in response to its front-page article "U.S. Used Bases in Ethiopia to Hunt Al Qaeda in Africa":

To the Editor:

If some U.S. officials regard our wrecking-ball intervention in Somalia to have been a "relative success," their notion of success is a baffling one. Like our search for WMD in Iraq, our dragnet for Al Qaeda operatives in the Somali desert has turned up nothing useful whatever in our war on terror. Instead, by contracting the services of the hated warlords and then relying on the less-than-impartial Ethiopians for intelligence, we "succeeded" only in killing and maiming scores of Somali nomads while snuffing out the only gleam of hope for national recovery that Somalia has seen in sixteen years. Along the way, of course, we managed to derail chances for an accommodation among feuding clans that might have allowed the fragile transitional government to assume effective power; we plunged the country's heartland back into the nightmare of violence it had begun to escape; and we shredded whatever admiration and gratitude toward the U.S. remained among a people that desperately wished to be our friends. What a strange measure of success . . . but then we're also "succeeding" in Iraq, aren't we?

Frank Crigler
Durham, North Carolina

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Fighting fire with fire" is not the answer

Fighting in Mogadishu grew much more intense over the past weekend, as transitional government forces using heavy artillery sought to neutralize the rocket and mortar attacks of its opponents. At least sixteen noncombattants were reported killed early today (Tuesday), and hospital personnel said that at least 40 more were wounded. Many Mogadishu residents were reported streaming out of town to escape the violence.

Transitional government officials, counting the days before an African Union peacekeeping force begins arriving, have meanwhile organized a "twenty-four hour paramilitary force" to chase down and capture dissidents.

I am personally very skeptical that either government backed paramilitaries or foreign peacekeeping troops will succeed in curbing the violence. So long as the transitional government and its foreign allies insist that the solution lies in suppressing dissent by force, I predict their efforts will fail. What is needed instead right now is some courageous mediation effort on the part of Somalia's real friends, aimed at a ceasefire and a resumption of political dialogue. The United States, instead of fanning the flames, should be seeking to organize such an effort. Otherwise, the ranks of angry Islamists are almost certain to swell.

I'm not sure my good friend Bashir agrees. "So this is the kind of 'freedom' the US government was trying to secure for Somalis!" he writes. " And where are all those (UN, AU, Human Rights Organizations etc.) who claimed to be 'struggling' for human rights, women's rights .....? They are all silent or hypocritically calling for peace talks with the 'moderates' of the Islamic courts."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mortar blasts rock Mogadishu

By Guled Mohamed and Sahal Abdulle, 2 hours, 44 minutes ago

A wave of pre-dawn mortar attacks pounded Mogadishu and killed at least 16 people on Tuesday in one of the most brutal bombardments since an Islamist movement was forced out of the Somali capital last month.

The hilltop presidential palace, Villa Somalia, and the coastal city's defense headquarters were among the targets hit in attacks that struck many quarters of Mogadishu and sent hundreds of residents fleeing to outlying towns.

"They showered us with rockets and a mortar also hit the compound. Luckily no one was hurt," said a government soldier who was in Villa Somalia during the attack but declined to be named for fear of reprisal.

"Our troops and those from our ally Ethiopia were forced to fire heavy artillery," he told Reuters. "We had to retaliate. These elements are being paid to cause all this destruction."

A spate of near-daily attacks have challenged the government's effort to impose security on the city recaptured in December by government forces and their Ethiopian allies from Islamists who controlled it for six months.

The death toll climbed throughout the day on Tuesday as more reports came in from across the chaotic capital, with witnesses and officials putting the total at 16 -- all of them civilians.

"A pregnant woman died in a house made of iron sheets after a mortar hit where she was sleeping. ... There was blood everywhere," witness Ibrahim Maalim, who said he saw six bodies in the central Wardigley district, told Reuters.

At one Mogadishu hospital alone officials said there were more than 40 wounded and those with lesser injuries were sent home. Relatives gathered around patients wrapped in bandages lying on the steamy, crowded hospital's floors.

The city's taxis, buses and trucks were packed with residents heading out of town.

"May God help us. These people played mortar games with us caught in between," said Salavo Elmi, an 80-year-old great-grandmother, as she left Mogadishu by taxi.


Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle accused Islamist remnants of paying the gunmen in the impoverished city where jobs are scarce and being a hired gun has long been one of the steadiest sources of employment for young men.

"The insurgents are paying $100 a day to whoever fires rockets and mortars at the government and people," he said.

But Jelle said a 24-hour paramilitary unit introduced on Monday would soon demonstrate its effectiveness: "The plan is to expand our control in the city so the extremists are no longer safe anywhere."

President Abdullahi Yusuf's government says it is doing its best to police one of the world's most dangerous cities with little help. And there are plenty of people with military weapons and anti-government grudges to make the task harder.

Ugandan soldiers are due to deploy in Mogadishu soon as the vanguard of an 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force to replace the Ethiopians.

The Nigerian army said 850 of its troops had completed training for induction into the AU mission and were expected to arrive in Somalia by mid-April at the latest.

Also on Tuesday, one of three private media groups summoned by intelligence chiefs a day earlier said it was "shocked and dismayed" after being told to stop reporting unrest in the city.

Shabelle TV and radio said the deputy head of national security "threatened the directors that (under) martial law... government soldiers can shoot and kill everyone they want."

Shabelle Chairman Abdi Maalik Yusuf Mohamuud called on the international community to pressure the government to respect press freedom. Read more!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Sadia to Zakaria: "Somalia Back to Square One"

Sadia Ali Aden, president of the Somalia Diaspora Network, tried her best last week to explain to Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria why U.S. intervention on the warlords' side had not been helpful to Somalia—but he just didn't get it.

In a television interview on Zakaria's program "Foreign Exchange" February 8, Sadia said the U.S. had mistakenly relied upon Ethiopian intelligence when it judged that the Union of Islamic Courts harbored al Qaida terrorists and thus concluded the Courts were a threat to its interests in the region. So when the Courts gained control of Mogadishu and expelled the warlords, Somalia became a new front in its worldwide "war on terror," the C.I.A. channeled funding to the warlords through the CIA, and the U.S. endorsed Ethiopia's military intervention to halt the Courts' advances. The result, Sadia said, was a renewal of ethnic conflict that had brought Somalia "back to square one."

Zakaria pressed Sadia to clarify what the U.S. should be doing in Somalia. "It should NOT have supported the warlords," she answered. "It should stop the bombing, encourage the Ethiopians to withdraw, and deploy human rights monitors who could provide an accurate picture of what was happening in Somalia." But Zakaria wasn't satisfied. "You say the U.S. should support the Somali government [although Sadia had not said that exactly]. But wasn't it the Somali government that approved of the bombing and invited the Ethiopians to intervene?"

Sadia attempted to explain that the U.S. had in effect sided with one faction within the transitional government when it should have supported reconciliation among its factions, but Zakaria's eyes glazed over. They agreed finally that it was a "very complex situation."

Click here to see and hear the full interview on Zakaria's website.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Museveni Dismisses Somali Islamists' Threats to Peacekeepers

President Museveni of Uganda told IRIN reporters earlier this week that "death threats" by Somali Islamist leaders would not deter Uganda from sending troops to Somalia, as promised. "If you bring Jihad, we'll bring back Black Jihad to you," he is quoted as saying.

Museveni also insisted that the Ugandan troops in Somalia would not be a "peace-keeping" force but rather a "peace-building" force, intended to empower those Somalis who truly wish to rebuild their country. Uganda, he said, had sent similar forces into Rwanda, [DRC]Congo, and Sudan with the same goal in mind. By contrast, "Peace-keeping is a Western concept. [It] is UN-ism . . . which is simply loitering around the globe with no solutions, adding to the problems. We are not part of the UN confusion."

Portions of the interview concerning Somalia follow; you can read the full interview by clicking here.

Q (IRIN): In terms of the domestic issues you have to deal with, is it wise to get involved in Somalia?

A (Museveni): The Somalia issue is not that difficult in my opinion. It is the collapse of the state of Somalia. Now that the Somalis have consensus, they should be helped to rebuild their state. Our going to Somalia will not be to do work for Somalis, but to enable them to do their work - rebuild their state, rebuild their army in particular, train the new army. And that is all. This can be done, we've done it before; it is not such a big problem.

Q: What exactly have you offered the African Union?

A: Soldiers - to provide insurance against any attempt to overthrow the government. And number two, to train the Somalis. It is a catalyst force, not the one to do the work. The problem with western countries is they try to act on behalf of the people, that is where their programmes get into problems. But if you come to empower the people to do their own thing, it is easier - that's what we did with the Tanzanians in 1978-1979 against Idi Amin. The Tanzanians empowered us, and then they left. Thereafter we did our own thing.

Q: After the Ethiopian invasion and the US bombardment, there is a power vacuum and no peace to keep. Is it a problem sending in peace-keeping troops when there no peace to keep?

A: That concept of peace-keeping is a western concept. It is just a part of the UN [United Nations]-ism. There is a problem called UN-ism, which is simply loitering around the globe with no solutions, adding to the problems. The issue there is peace-building. We are not going to keep the peace, because we are not supposed to be bringing the peace. That's opportunistic - how can you say, I will not come in until there is peace, and I will come to keep the peace! Who will get the peace? It should be part of peace-building. That is what we did in many of the situations - in Uganda with Idi Amin; in Rwanda with the genocidaires, we empowered the RPF [Rwanda Patriotic Front], then they were able to stop the genocide. In our fight with Sudan - we empowered those who wanted peace in Sudan, and a solution. So in Somalia it's the same thing - it is not 'peace-keeping', it is peace-building. And peace-building is helping the Somalis to empower themselves, on the one hand, and on the other to be as inclusive as possible. After a little while, maybe two, three years - I don't know what they've agreed - go for elections, give back sovereignty to the people. So it is peace-building, not peace-keeping. That is UN-ism; we are not part of the UN confusion.

Q: The African Union is aiming to recruit 8,000 troops - if they are not able to raise that number, would you still send in the Ugandan unit?

A: Yes, because what the Somalis need is someone to train them, that is all.

Q: But there have been death threats against the peacekeepers .

A: That is no problem - we are used to those so-called Jihadis . because we had [Hassan al] Turabi [a prominent Sudanese Islamist politician] here on our border, he was using that language - 'Jihad'. We are black people, this is a black continent - our continent. You cannot bring that Middle Eastern nonsense here. We are not going to accept it. If you bring Jihad, we'll bring back Black Jihad to you. These are Somali people. They are all Muslims. So Jihad to do what now? [Somalis] have a temporary government now. Restore a normal life; then go for elections, after a little while. So, Jihad against whom? Read more!

Monday, February 12, 2007

It Must Be True: VOA reports "unconfirmed" deal aimed at freeing U.S. troops captured in Somalia

Although hushed up in Washington, there was apparently some foundation in fact to the report posted here on February 6 that about a dozen U.S. troops had been captured by Islamist forces during fighting last month in Somalia. In a dispatch from its East Africa Bureau in Nairobi just this morning, VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu quoted an "unconfirmed" Yemini newspaper report claiming that "a top Islamist leader, who surrendered to U.S. and Kenyan authorities last month, has traveled from Kenya to Yemen, allegedly under a deal aimed at securing the freedom of more than a dozen U.S. troops captured by Islamist forces in early January."

The report, which appeared in an Arabic-language newspaper, said "the United States agreed to allow Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed to go to Yemen in exchange for the release of the U.S. servicemen." VOA Correspondent Ryu notes that the captured troops were "allegedly seized around the Islamist stronghold of Ras Kamboni, near Somalia's border with Kenya, while the United States carried out air strikes in the area."

The reporter adds that "the Pentagon has repeatedly said that no U.S. ground troops were deployed in Somalia."

In the same VOA dispatch, Ms. Ryu also reports a third straight day of intensive attacks in Mogadishu by an Islamist group calling itself the "People's Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations." The group has claimed responsibility for much of the recent violence aimed at the Presidential palace and police stations. It has called for war against Ethiopian troops in Somalia and has threatened to kill any peacekeeper who steps foot on Somali soil.

(The full text of the report on these two subjects is available at the VOA website.)

My friend Bashir, who drew my attention to the VOA report, comments as follows:

The report by the VOA reporter Alisha Ryu is interesting, in that 3 weeks [after it first circulated] this 'rumour' is given credence just by the VOA's mentioning it and even more importantly by the last phrase--a blatantly false denial.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Is This True? " Eleven US soldiers reported seized in Somalia fighting last month

I find the following news report astonishing but intriguing nonetheless:

According to Al-Khaleej news agency based in the Emirates quoting DPA news agency, Somalia’s routed Islamist leader Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed and the US ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, are said to be bargaining over the release of 11 US servicemen reportedly captured by the defeated Islamists in southern Somalia.

The news agency asserts that "reliable diplomatic sources" indicate that the two men have held four rounds of talks over the American soldiers in the captivity of Islamists in southern jungles of the war-torn country, Somalia.

The remainder of the report may be read on the Shabelle Net News page by clicking here. I'm personally unaware of any Western media report that any such number of U.S. soldiers were taken prisoner during the brief US-supported invasion of Somalia by Ethiopian forces last month. Can anyone shed light from other sources on these claims? If so, kindly comment below.

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