Saudis host conference to support pro-US regime in Somalia, as opposition groups meet in Asmara

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The last thing a Muslim country like Somalia –” which has been in the grip of turmoil and lawlessness for 16 years and is now under occupation by Ethiopian and US forces –” needs is intervention in its turbulent affairs by Muslim governments, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, that are allies of the US and back its anti-Islamic programme in the Horn of Africa. Yet that is exactly what took place in mid-September, when three top leaders of the so-called Somali interim government (IG) and 300 clan heads (warlords, most of them) gathered in Jeddah and signed a “national reconciliation pact”, as the minority accord was presented. This Saudi-sponsored facade was swiftly hailed by Jordan, Egypt and the Arab League as a new development guaranteed to restore peace, stability and unity to the fractured and ‘failed’ state. It also secured the firm backing of the UN and the European Union –” which, like those Muslim countries and the US, oppose the establishment of Islamic rule or even groups in the region.

The Jeddah gathering –” held in one of the palace conference halls under the personal supervision of the Saudi king himself –” was attended by president Abdullahi Yusuf, prime minister Ali Mohammed Sheddi and the head of the transitional parliament, Adan Nur Madobeh, together with the three hundred clan heads. They were there to consider the text of a ‘national reconciliation pact’ that had been prepared by the National Reconciliation Council (appointed by the IG) and agreed at a meeting held in Muqdishu (Mogadishu), also on the invitation and under the supervision of the Saudis. According to one Saudi daily, ash-Sharq al-Awsat, reporters covering the meeting –” who had thought there would be long discussions and much haggling –” were taken by surprise by the speed with which ‘national reconciliation’ was achieved and the pact signed.

Not surprisingly, the contents of the pact signed before king Abdullah were kept secret, as they had been during and after the National Reconciliation meeting in Muqdishu. What was revealed at length and covered in the media –” especially the Saudi press –” was the success of the king in laying the basis for guaranteed national reconciliation that will also secure the support of opposition groups not attending the Jeddah gathering. He was reported as having no doubt that what was achieved in Jeddah was genuine national reconciliation that will bring total peace to Somalia and restore its unity and independence.

That there can be nothing further from the truth than these assertions was already widely known as they were being made. Only a few days before the Jeddah meeting, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), Somalia’s Islamic movement, and other major opposition groups had convened a conference of their own in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, attended by the leaders of most of the groups opposed to the IG, who established a coalition and declared war on the Ethiopian army in their country. They declared that the new coalition was established for the purpose of ‘freeing’ Somalia of the Ethiopian occupation, stressing that it would resort to military confrontation if the Ethiopian forces protecting the IG failed to withdraw.

Zakaria Mahmoud Abdi, spokesman of the Asmara conference, said that the coalition will employ both military and diplomatic instruments to achieve its purpose, and warned the Ethiopian occupiers of the consequences of their failure to withdraw. “We do not own military equipment but we have armed Somalis and an armed nation that cannot be defeated.” Those attending the Asmara conference included UIC leaders, secular opposition figures and representatives of opposition-groups living abroad. The UIC leader in his turn rejected the US description of the group as terrorists, saying that in fact it (the US) is the real terrorist. “I am a Somali nationalist fighting for the establishment of a free and united Somalia, and the US administration considers my struggle as pure terrorism,” said Sheikh Hassan Tahir. “The only problem in the region is the intervention by the US and its dependents –” the Ethiopian leaders,” he added.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the groups meeting in the Eritrean capital are very important, that their participation is essential to any national reconciliation, and that they would rather go to war than accept the Jeddah charade. Another reason why the Saudi monarch’s claims are false and that there can be no reconciliation is that the IG continues its war on opponents who are still in the country and are not engaged in attacks against it. Moreover, just before, during and after the Jeddah gathering the IG raised pressure on independent broadcasting-stations to physical attacks, such as shelling, which drove even its US ally to public alarm. On September 22 the US state department issued a statement expressing its “deep regrets at the attacks [the previous week] on the Shabel broadcasting station in Muqdishu, which exposed the lives of its staff to danger.” The statement called on the IG to guarantee the safety and protection of the independent press in its country. Even the UN followed up with a similar statement. The continuing clashes between the IG forces and those of Somaliland, which seceded in 1991, do not support the claim that the national reconciliation pact will help the reunification of Somalia.

The UIC, which ruled many areas of southern Somalia for a short period, oversaw the only period of peace and stability that Somalia has known in nearly two decades, before it was evicted fron power by the Ethiopian army last December. The US government, which has the UIC on its list of terrorist organisations, arranged and funded the invasion and saw to it that power was restored to the warlords, who had been responsible for the turbulence gripping the country in the first place. The so-called “transitional national government” (TNG), also known as the interim government (IG), consists in fact of the warlords that had reduced the country to violence and lawlessness; unsurprisngly, the same has happened again, wrecking the UIC’s record of achievement of relative good government in the regions under its control.

But despite its failures, the IG continues to enjoy the backing of the UN, the US and its Arab allies, which label the UIC an “extremist group”. The security council of the UN, for instance, on August 20 issued a unanimous resolution, warning that it will “take measures” against anyone –”such as the UIC and Eritrea –” that threatens Somalia’s transitional government. Not surprisingly, the US government accuses Eritrea of arming and supporting the UIC, while it backs and finances the continued presence of the Ethiopian army, which protects the IG. As a report in Time magazine on September 17 confirms, it is the US that arranged, funded and armed the invasion in the first place, and that now extends similar assistance to the army’s continued presence.

“Whatever Washington’s misgivings, there is little doubt that once Ethiopia committed itself to an invasion, the US provided intelligence, military targeting and logistical support to Ethiopian forces in Somalia –” support which continues to this day,” report says.

But the Somali people, most of whom support the UIC, do not need media reports –” or even open admissions by Washington –” to see the extent of the US’s backing for the Ethiopian army or of its own military presence in their country. They believe that Ethiopia cannot continue to finance the presence of thousands of troops by itself. They also know how interested the US government is in propping up the IG and keeping out the UIC, as they daily see US troops hunting, or searching for, members and supporters of the UIC. Those troops cross into Somalia from neighbouring Djibouti, where there is a US military base set up to combat “terrorist groups”, especially al-Qa’ida, in the entire Horn of Africa.

The majority of Somalis also deeply resent the presence of troops belonging to Ethiopia –” a strategic enemy of their own country. Like other Muslims, they now know that the US ‘war on terrorism’ is a war on Islam and Muslims, and that knowledge is confirmed for them by Washington’s support for Christian Ethiopia and its war on the UIC. This explains their anger at the IG’s reliance on US and Ethiopian political, financial and military support, as it explains Washington’s strong interest in replacing the Ethiopian army with an international force under UN control. The US government believes that the presence of such force as the IG leaders and the Saudi palace called for at Jeddah, when the “National Reconciliation” pact was being signed there, will end the nationalist anger in Somalia at the IG, and end support for the UIC. That belief is likely to prove misguided when the results of the Asmara conference are seen on the ground in Somalia.

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