Mogadishu on verge of falling to Islamic forces as transitional government faces disintegration

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A year ago (December 2006) the US government persuaded Ethiopia to invade Somalia, giving it military and financial backing to remove from power the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and replace it with the transitional federal government (TFG). Both Washington and Addis Ababa thought at the time that they had gained effective control of Somalia by replacing the UIC with an administration made up of warlords, military officers and secular officials. But now they have no doubt that whatever control they had has crumbled: Muqdisho (Mogadishu, the capital) is engulfed in violence, and the TFG admits openly that it has no control over events, appealing publicly for international aid to prevent the UIC from retaking the capital and other parts of Somalia.

On December 13, a TFG official said that “radical Muslims” had regrouped and were poised to attack. A few hours later, mortars were fired into the biggest market in Mogadishu and gun-battles erupted across the city, killing at least 17 people. Before the attacks Sheikh Qasim Ibrahim Nur, director of the National Security Ministry, said that the government had no power to resist the Islamic fighters. “About 80% of Somalia is not safe and is not under the control of the government.” In his statement to the Associated Press, Nur added that the “Islamists are planning to launch a huge attack against the forces of the government and its allies,” and urged the international community to support the government as the “Islamic fighters are everywhere.” This was somewhat confirmed by a presidential spokesman, Hussein Mohamed Mahmoud, who said that Islamic fighters were realigning their forces –” adding that they had “a lot of arms and many foreign fighters”.

It is a totally new development for government officials and spokesmen to admit publicly that their own forces and those of their Ethiopian allies are unable to prevent the UIC from reasserting its control of Mogadishu and the country’s southern regions. They even admitted that the Ethiopian troops had withdrawn from the southern areas of the capital, which had been attacked by the Islamic fighters, although they insisted that their withdrawal was simply due to a change in military strategy. But this admission of defeat is not surprising: it is common knowledge that the transitional government has disintegrated to the extent that it cannot even be restored to the very limited and shaky clan-based influence it had earlier.

The final stage of this disintegration began in October, when president Abdillahi Yusuf, a former army general, fell out with Ali Mohammed Ghedi, his prime minister, and the dubious clan-basis of their cooperation was destroyed. Yusuf belongs to the Darod clan, which is based in the north; Ghedi belongs to the Hawiye clan, which controlled Mogadishu. The former was elected president by the Somali parliament in exile in Kenya on October 10, 2004, and the latter became his prime minister. Both men are now gone, Ghedi having resigned as prime minister and Yusuf falling seriously ill early in December. He was hastily removed to Kenya for medical treatment, and then to London for further medical checks and treatment. Yusuf, who is 73 years old and still in London, is in effect gone from Somalia’s political scene.

In any case, both men are considered too weak to be allowed to continue their roles (which are dead anyway) by the Western press, whose comments on “the resurgence of the UIC” are bound to be taken seriously by the US government. The US regards its intervention in Somalia as an integral part of its “international war on terrorism”. The London Daily Telegraph, for instance, carried an editorial (December 14) that condemned Yusuf’s failure and warned that the UIC should never be allowed to resume power. “Mr Yusuf has proved a woeful head of state, doubly hated by the inhabitants of Mogadishu, first because he is a Darod in a Hawiye city, second because he owes his presence there to a foreign army.”

But the editorial went to the absurd extreme of warning that any return to power by the UIC would expose Europe to acts of terrorism. “A Somalia run by the Courts would afford a springboard for terrorist attacks on Europe,” it said. “Two of the four men convicted this summer for plotting to bomb London’s transport system on July 21, 2005, were part of the large Somali community in this country,” it added.

However, the extent to which the US government has gone to exaggerate the extent of the threat of “Islamic terrorists”, not only to East Africa but also to the entire African continent, is even more absurd: it claims that al-Qa’ida is heavily involved in the violence in the continent. To combat “this threat” it has opened a military base in Djibouti to house the combined Joint Task Force –” Horn of Africa. In 2003 Washington allocated $100 million to the East Africa Counter-Terrrorism Initiative, “an inter-agency taskforce focused on the continent,” as Time magazine (December 10) put it. According to this article, the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet, based in Gaeta, Italy, “now spends much of its time patrolling the coasts of Africa”.

Even more alarmingly, the article added: “This year, using another $100 million allocated to Africa under the Global Peace Operations initiative, US soldiers will train and equip units from 13 to 15 African countries. The pattern of a growing US military interest in the continent was confirmed on October 1 with the opening in Stuttgart, Germany, of Africom, a 200-officer command dedicated to operations in Africa. The immediate focus of the new command is likely to be the Horn.”

This explains why Somalia is –” and will continue to be –” the a major victim of US aggression. But the Bush administration is not likely to engage US troops on its various fronts before the units from the dozen or more African countries are trained. Instead it will ask African countries to send their forces to the chosen battlefields. For instance, it is now pressing Nigeria to send troops to Somalia and to Darfur. Having already pressed Ethiopia to dispatch its forces into Somalia, it is also now urging it to send them to Darfur.

However, Washington is not interested in bringing peace to those two regions –” whose populations are all Muslims –” and the continuing violence suits its “anti-terrorism” game. The fact that Muslim countries and organisations are not opposing its actions or criticising them encourages it to persist. Meanwhile, the region’s people will continue to pay the price for the US’s megalomaniac ambitions.

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