From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sun Nov 16 2008 - 15:35:25 EST
Somalia: Islamists re-emerge, as their enemy wavers
16 Nov 15, 2008 - 1:53:19 PM
by Faisal Abdikarim**
Two years after they lost power to advancing Ethiopian forces, Somalia's Islamists are again powerful, controlling most of the southern key towns, carrying out hit-and-run attacks against the Interim Government in both Mogadishu and Baidabo. The Situation is so precarious that aid agencies are on target and that the once peaceful regional states, Puntland and Somaliland are now drawn to the conflict with suicide bombs targeting their intelligence service and government palace, respectively. The Interim Government that gave Ethiopians the green light is yet locked in an endless power-rifle, writes Faysal Abdikarim.
Only two years have elapsed, since the powerful Ethiopian forces rooted out Somali Islamists over Christmas Eve in 2006, in support to a shaky government formed in neighboring Kenya by IGAD, a regional bloc, after years of lawlessness and chaos on their threshold.
Prior to the Ethiopian invasion, the Islamists had controlled nearly all of southern Somalia and sent waves of threat and apprehension to the Puntland administration of northeast Somalia, a semiautonomous region that borders southern Somalia.
The Ethiopians crash of the Islamist forces and their sudden incursion to the capital of Mogadishu in two weeks period prompted a little hope of ending Somalia conflict by seating the Interim government in the capital. But that sharp blow to the Islamist forces did not hold complete crashing, but spiraling street-battle and daily hit-and-run insurgent attacks incapacitated both Ethiopian and Somali troops in the capital.
Ethiopian and the Interim Government's counter-insurgency operations or retaliatory fight-backs had only caused the death of large number of civilians, and fuelled anti-Ethiopian sentiments among Somali citizens, and adversely gave extremists legitimacy, more power and sanctuary.
Today, two years later, most of the capital and other southern regions, including, Kismayo, Marka, and Beledweine, are under control of Alshabab, the most violent and uncompromising Islamist wing.
A recent video posted on you-tube has showed Islamists in new stage of training and recruitment where IGAD leaders-the Interim Government's ally- gathered in Nairobi to conduct an audit on the feeble performance of the TFG and inked so many resolutions which for many Somali politicians indicate how the interim government is remote-controlled by some IGAD countries.
The resolution asks Somalia government to report its achievements to IGAD every two months; dissolve its cabinet and form new cabinet and also administration for the capital- demands seen by those politicians as a compromise to Somali sovereignty where IGAD charter enshrines the sovereignty of member states for their internal affairs.
The interim government now faces absolute failure due to many combined reasons, most important being a long infighting since its formation. TFG's former Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, in a long feud with the president, resigned in October last year, after Ethiopian officials and American ambassadors in Addis Ababa backed his resignation to save the interim government.
Three weeks after Gedi's resignation, the President appointed the incumbent Prime Minister, Nur Hassan Hussein, a former senior police officer and veteran humanitarian worker. Hussein's nomination met with huge support within Somalia and the international community as he appointed ministers from outside parliament in first time. However, his first cabinet was dissolved days after its announcement as Ethiopia voiced dissatisfactory against it.
The current rift between Somalia's top leaders originates from the prime minister's dismissal of former Mogadishu mayor, Mohamed Omar Habeb, a former warlord and Yusuf ally, few months ago.
In desperate attempts to 'unite' the TFG, Ethiopia has frequently summoned the Interim Government leaders to Addis Ababa for dialogue. But whenever, they leave Addis Ababa's Bole Airport, officials remain divided and Ethiopia couldn't try other alternative but to distance itself from both sides and call for IGAD summit in Kenya to blame the interim Government for the political failure in Somalia.
More surprisingly, after the IGAD summit, in which the interim leaders had been instructed to form new cabinet and regional administration for the capital, the two leaders are yet to come over their differences. The President and the premier met in London last week. According to insiders, another deadlock has emerged in the cabinet nomination, where some of Yusuf's allies were left by the prime minister, including those who had stepped down before months to press for the prime minister's resignation.
Surely, the Somali officials' infighting is an important factor for the government's failure but it is not the only reason. The fact that TFG is not elected by the Somali people and its lack of internal support at grassroots level, particularly in southern Somalia is to blame. The Somali people's disapproval of Ethiopian interference is another factor.
Some politicians also blame Ethiopia's partisan politics with the interim government, favoring some members, saying Ethiopia doesn't support full independent government for Somalia and that its recent criticism to the government's performance is merely a cover-up for its failure in Somalia. Others say that Ethiopia's mission was previously not for the interest of the TFG but to break the backbone of the Islamist forces and when Ethiopia realized that Islamists could no longer wage war against Addis Ababa's territories, it scaled down its counter-insurgency operations.
Other insiders believe that President Yusuf's opposition to any Ethiopian support to Col. Barre Hirale- a notorious warlord and TFG member- to fight Islamist fighters in Kismayu, have caused Ethiopia not to attack Islamists elsewhere until Yusuf accepts Col. Hirale in his camp and support an attack on Islamists forces in Kismayu in support to Col. Hirale.
Whatever the reason is, what is clearer is as of now is that the current situation in Somalia remains too precarious, and that Somalis live in their worst time of their known history. Millions are displaced and are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The insecurity has reached its highest peak to the extent that aid workers, whether foreigners or nationals are persistently targeted. To the extent that once peaceful states of Puntland and Somaliland (the later seeks independence from Somalia) are now dealing with suicide attacks in their nearly two decades of stability.
The United States, which plays a major role in the conflict, is now in political shift, which may also cast another change to the problem. President-elect, Barack Obama in part of a political school would want to limit US funds to the endless anti-terrorism wars in Afghanistan and Somalia, to save their ailing economy. This could force Ethiopia to withdraw its forces from Somalia prematurely, since the horn of African nation cannot afford to support its Somalia operations alone from its coffers.
The US House Democrats may also renew their HR2003 bill that calls for Ethiopian government accountability for its human rights record. This may also cast a shadow on Ethiopia-US relations in fighting terrorism in Somalia.
These can only be political forecasts, but the real solution to Somali conflict is far from the foreseeable solution and a new roadmap needs to be redrawn. Ethiopia and the Interim government should admit failure and seek other alternatives.
The ongoing efforts of peace talks between the interim government and its opposition by the UN envoy to Somalia, Ahmed Ould-Abdallah, are the only credible means to stabilize Somalia if the project receives the adequate international backing it requires. But what we see as of now is not encouraging. The International community and the regional organizations should avoid parallel actions that could undermine Ould-abdallah's thriving approach. Honestly speaking, he's the only international diplomat who caught on the real origin of Somali conflict and come up with the appropriate method.
**The writer is a Somali journalist and could be reached at email@example.com
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