Somalia: Why the International Contact Group should support the Islamic Courts Union

Between euphoria and frustration, clarity and confusion, moderates must develop a sustainable alternative solution to the lawlessness that paralyzed Somalia for over 15 years, and find a platform to showcase that. Of course the quest to accomplish that would not only require willpower and resilience to paddle against the ferocious waves of suspicion, fear, and hate, but also a real support (of moral and material value).

In light of the events of the past few weeks in Mogadishu, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) has emerged as being the group with the most feasible plan to restore law and order in mostly chaotic Somalia. The seemingly untamable south is now safe and ICU is determined to maintain it. And on this particular objective to maintain peace, the newly formed International Contact Group (ICG) should unequivocally support the union. Needless to say, in doing so, the ICG will, among other things, have a unique opportunity to prove its critics wrong.

Citing its seemingly haphazard formation and the fact that it is being led by the US, these critics have been charging that the whole fanfare about the formation of ICG was nothing other than a political window-dressing intended to divert attention away from the recent foreign policy fiasco in which a CIA led clandestine operation led to an unholy alliance between the US and some of the most loathed warlords in Somalia.

To dispel that stigma and rebuild trust, ICG must stand and deliver. In other words, provide more substantive support than symbolic. In all likelihood in such open support will be met with resistance from certain Islamophobic inters groups who are already claiming that ICU is nothing but a “Trojan horse” designed to deceptively usher in “Islamic extremism” and build “a safe haven for terrorism”.

As paradoxical as it may sound, on one hand Somalia is facing the danger of renewed violence on the other the opportunity to reconcile difference once and for all. ICU is in a good position to convene an all-inclusive reconciliation conference. They gained the public trust since they neither expressed political appetite to rule Somalia nor denied the legitimacy of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

In a recent letter aimed to engage the international community in a dialogue, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the chairman of ICU, has outlined the union’s political priorities as follow: to “remove and disarm all criminal elements that endanger the peace in the city (Mogadishu)”, “to contribute to the rebuilding of (Somalia) and create a peaceful environment and a country that is at peace with itself, and with its neighbors and with the international community”, and “to establish a friendly relationship with the international community that is based on mutual respect and interest and seek their support for the Somali peace process and respect their desire for peace”. In that same letter, he also appealed to the international community for “patience” and “understanding”.

It is this kind of conciliatory tone and moderate vision that has been the impetus driving Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s rapid rise to fame. When members of the international media who came to interview him recently asked if they could take a picture with him, he quipped “it might be too dangerous for you” before graciously accepting it.

Somalis of various clan shades are still praising the leadership qualities that he demonstrated as he prudently negotiated the terms of the warlords’ surrender and worked out a peaceful deal. His strategy is widely believed to have spared many lives and prevented future vendettas.

Most analysts agree: what’s now known as the ICU movement is a spontaneously formed populist uprising against the abuses and exploitations of the warlords, and as such, the movement bears a profound historical significance to the average Somali, which is why it attracted “the good; the bad; and the ugly” as volunteers.

Today, along the great majority of ICU members who are driven by altruistic ideals of helping the oppressed and cultivating peace and justice, membership includes clan-enthusiasts, over-zealot ideologues, and common criminals (locally known as Moryaan).

When ICU forces took over the town Jowhar, it was reported that some of its militia members have resorted to looting, robbery, and power abuses reminiscent of that of the warlords. Needless to say, unless these Moryans are filtered out or genuinely rehabilitated they would discredit the authenticity of the movement as a peace-seeking one.

In the meantime, the UN is worried of certain new trends in Somalia that might lead to renewed violence and bloodshed. There are too many flammable elements that must be kept apart. On one hand, TFG has been gradually intensifying its confrontational rhetoric, especially since it succeeded in convincing African Union (AU) to pass a resolution mandating the deployment of Ugandan and Sudanese troops in Somalia- a mandate that the ICU said will consider it an act of war if and when it is enacted upon. On the other hand, it is widely reported that Ethiopian troops have illegally crossed into mainland Somalia and are supposedly headed to Baidabo- the town where the TFG is currently hosted- this while Yemen is intensifying its delivery of large supply of weaponry and ammunitions to TFG.

Indeed, the warning signs are flashing.

And according to Bruno Schiemsky, the coordinator of the UN Monitoring Group, it is only “a matter of time before the ICU and TFG clashed”. Needless to say such clash would only cause more bloodshed and promote militancy and extremism that could extend beyond Somalia.

Of course the transitional government is no match to the union…which means, Ethiopia will ultimately interfere directly in order to tip the balance of power in TFG’s favor which would set off a chain of reactions that would inevitably invite countries such as Eritrea and Sudan to partake this extremely volatile conflict.

While too many dots must be connected before a decipherable political pattern would emerge to help observers make better forecasts and recommendations, one thing remains morally clear: supporting those who removed all illegal checkpoints of extortion and banditry, who restored law and order, and inspired a sense of hope is the judicious thing to do.