From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Mon Dec 22 2008 - 07:44:51 EST
Insurgents poised to widen control in Somalia once Ethiopia withdraws
Reports: Radical Islamists gain power
12/22/2008 12:47:54 AM CST
DADAAB, Kenya - By the time Mohamed Abdi Ibrahim decided to leave Somalia,
life in the southern city of Kismaayo had become, as he put it with
consummate understatement, "complicated."
Young men there had long shouldered AK-47 assault rifles and joined clan
militias. But as an Islamist militia known as al-Shabab took control this
year, it had become a place where boys were paid $50 to throw bombs, soccer
fields served as militia training camps, and Islamist leaders walked into
classrooms to take names of potential recruits.
Ibrahim and two friends fled months ago, just after the Shabab began beating
people not attending Friday prayers and just before the group publicly
stoned to death a 13-year-girl it had convicted of adultery.
The scenario now unfolding in Somalia is the very one a U.S.-backed
Ethiopian invasion nearly two years ago had been intended to thwart: a
takeover by radical Islamists.
At the time, Ethiopian forces ousted a relatively diverse Islamic movement
that had briefly gained control of the capital, Mogadishu. In its place,
they installed a transitional government headed by a warlord who allowed the
United States to launch counterterrorism operations in the moderate Muslim
But the policy backfired, inspiring a relentless insurgency of clan militias
and Islamist fighters that has left Somalia's first central government since
1991 near collapse. On Sunday night, advisers and supporters of President
Abdullahi Yusuf -
who has been accused of obstructing a possible political compromise to help
end the insurgency - said that he would resign today, although, as with
everything in Somalia, the situation remained fluid.
The two-year insurgency has energized the most radical Islamist faction, the
Shabab - "youth" in Arabic - which the United States has designated a
Rallying young men with anti-Ethiopian rhetoric and a promised ticket to
Paradise, the group advanced this year across much of southern Somalia,
including the capital, Mogadishu. Analysts predict the Shabab would extend
its control after the Ethiopians withdraw, which they have promised to do
The United States and the United Nations support a political settlement that
shifts power from Yusuf and his circle to an opposition coalition that
includes some of the Islamist leaders cast as extremists two years ago, as
well as clan leaders who had been excluded by Yusuf's government. Backers of
the Djibouti agreement hope that the Ethiopian withdrawal, along with the
political deal, will rob the Shabab of its cause.
But the situation on the ground - and in swelling refugee camps such as this
one - suggests that the Shabab is only gaining strength.
"Young people, our age mates, were joining (the Shabab) every day," Ibrahim
said. "They would tell them to fight for your religion, fight for your land,
and they'd also give them money - they were difficult to resist."
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