From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sun Jan 18 2009 - 10:49:09 EST
Insurgents find winning battles easier than controlling regions
SOMALIA: Islamists, ethnic clans and gangs vie for position as Ethiopian
withdrawal leaves power vacuumFrom Steve Bloomfield in Nairobi
AS THE final Ethiopian forces left Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, last week,
a familiar figure was racing in the other direction attempting to take their
place. Sheikh Yusuf Inda'adde, warlord, Islamist and one-time driver for
Unicef, wanted to reclaim a slab of power. Local clan elders weren't so
keen. Tense negotiations and a small bout of fighting followed and Inda'adde
was pushed back.
Similar scenes have taken place across Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia
as a collection of Islamist groups, clan militias and criminal gangs have
tried to reclaim territory previously controlled by Ethiopian or Somali
government forces. But while many of the groups battling for power are
Islamist, some analysts believe Somalia's intricate clan structures will
have far more bearing on who gains power - and how they rule - than any
Al Shabaab, the most militant insurgent group, designated a terrorist
organisation by the United States, has already discovered that holding on to
territory is far harder than capturing it. In some areas under their control
they have inserted leaders who come from other clans, antagonising local
elders. The group's support among ordinary civilians is also believed to be
While around 99% of the country is Muslim, there has been little appetite in
the past for strict sharia law. Public opinion began to turn against the
former Union of Islamic Courts, which ruled Mogadishu in 2006, when hardline
elements enforced laws banning cigarettes, alcohol and khat, a mild narcotic
used by many Somali men.
Al Shabaab administrators in Jowhar, north of the capital, publicly whipped
three people last week for allegedly smoking marijuana and drinking beer,
while the stoning of a 13-year-old girl for "committing adultery" - she was
gang-raped - angered residents in Kismayo, in the south of the country.
Some of Al Shabaab's actions have also incensed other Islamist militias -
videos on the internet site YouTube show Al Shabaab fighters destroying
In the past few weeks, rival militias have begun fighting Al Shabaab. In the
town of Dhusa Mareb in central Somalia, Al Shabaab were routed by a group
calling itself Ahlu Sunna wa al Jami'a.
While most Ethiopian troops appear to be leaving, some will remain. There
have been several reports that Ethiopian troops have moved into the Jubba
Valley region in the south, and are expected to retain a presence in central
regions near the Ethiopian border.
Ethiopia is also believed to be funding and supporting a range of militias
and warlords prepared to fight Al Shabaab. "We are returning to the old
pattern - divide and rule," said one Somalia analyst who has been working in
the region for more than two decades.
The Ethiopian withdrawal from Mogadishu came more than two years after their
controversial invasion, which was backed by the US.
Ethiopia heralded its withdrawal as the culmination of a successful mission.
In a press statement entitled Mission Accomplished, the Ethiopian foreign
ministry claimed its military had helped restore "peace and stability in
By any reckoning there is no peace and no stability in Somalia. More than
10,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed since the war began on
Christmas Day 2006. More than one million people have been forced to flee
their homes, the majority from the capital, Mogadishu. At least 3.2 million
- roughly half the population - are in desperate need of food aid, but
little can get through. Some 38 aid workers have been killed in the past 12
months, deliberately targeted by armed groups.
Ethiopia also claimed it had carried out its actions with a "great sense of
responsibility". But a wave of rocket attacks by Ethiopian forces on
residential areas of Mogadishu in March and April 2007 - including attacks
on hospitals - resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. Human Rights
Watch accused Ethiopian forces of committing war crimes.
Ethiopia's withdrawal from Mogadishu leaves the Somali transitional federal
government - a body which exists in name only - with little protection and
facing a lot of public anger. Its president, Abdullahi Yusuf, a 70-something
cantankerous warlord who had steadfastly refused to negotiate with anyone,
including his own prime minister, resigned last month.
Political negotiations between what remains of the Somali government and the
main political opposition group about forming a new "unity government" are
taking place in neighbouring Djibouti. But the fact that neither side feels
safe enough to carry out the talks inside Somalia suggests it may not carry
Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the softly spoken former geography teacher who
leads the opposition (and once led the Union of Islamic Courts), is highly
respected inside Somalia but has few militias, if any, willing to fight on
his side. Prime minister Nur Adde, who has declared himself a candidate for
president when parliament votes at the end of the month, is in a similar
"No-one knows what will happen next," said one Nairobi-based analyst. "All
bets are off."
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