[dehai-news] Garoweonline.com: Somalia Begins a Cycle of Civil Conflict [analysis]

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Mar 04 2009 - 06:03:55 EST

Somalia Begins a Cycle of Civil Conflict [analysis]

 Mar 4, 2009 - 5:32:24 PM


Report Drafted By:

Dr. Michael A. Weinstein,

During the week of February 23, Somalia began a new cycle of its political
history as clear battle lines formed among the major domestic contenders
over the country's south and central regions.

The newly expanded Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), which is
by the conciliatory faction of the former opposition Alliance for the
Re-Liberation of Somalia (A.R.S.-D), relocated from Djibouti to the official
capital Mogadishu and immediately faced military attacks by the recently
formed Hizbul Islam (Islamic Party), an alliance of four armed opposition
groups in which the militant faction of the A.R.S. (A.R.S.-A) exerts the
strongest influence. Efforts to resolve the conflict by the new Islamic
Clerics Council (I.C.C.) and the Hawiye Tradition and Unity Council
(T.U.C.), representing some of the major clans in Mogadishu, appeared by the
end of the week to have achieved only partial success. Meanwhile, the
revolutionary Salafist al-Shabab movement extended and consolidated its
control over Somalia's southwestern regions, taking Huddur, the capital of
Bakol region; tightening its administrations in the Gedo region; and
maintaining its hold over the Bay region. Ethiopia, which had threatened to
curb any further expansion by al-Shabaab, appeared to acquiesce in the
latter's moves and to refuse to support clan militias that it had been
training to take back the southwest. Standing on the sidelines, the
international coalition formally supporting the T.F.G. met in Brussels under
the aegis of the International Contact Group (I.C.G.) and continued to
accord rhetorical backing to the T.F.G., promising to strengthen its
security forces, yet making no immediate or tangible commitments.

The major development of the week, which precipitated from the violent
in Mogadishu, was the announcement by Sh. Sharif Sh. Ahmed, the T.F.G.'s
president and leader of the A.R.S.-D faction, that he would accede to the
I.C.C.'s demand that the T.F.G. implement Shari'a law in Somalia, which was
quickly followed by a statement by Osman Elmi Boqore, the deputy speaker of
transitional parliament, that the legislature would cooperate with Sh.
Sharif's plans to implement Islamic law. With the three major contenders all
promoting an Islamic political formula for Somalia, it appears that the
international coalition's push for an "inclusive" and secular National Unity
Government has been repelled and that the country's southern and central
regions will be ruled under some variants of Islamic practice, whether that
means clan-based devolution in religious trappings or an actual Islamic
state with a functioning government.


Recreating the split between A.R.S.-D and A.R.S.-A, the conflict in
Mogadishu between the T.F.G. and Hizbul Islam (H.I.) indicates that the
emerging cycle of Somalia's political history can be understood better as a
struggle over the nature of a possible future state among contending
political forces than as a drama in which the weak protagonist Sh. Sharif
attempts to establish a functioning government against his armed
antagonists. Sh. Sharif has lost momentum and room for initiative, and is
now one player among several.

Upon relocating to Mogadishu on February 23, Sh. Sharif immediately met with
I.C.C. mediators between the T.F.G. and H.I. in order to head off a
confrontation. Drawing a red line, H.I. leader Sh. Hassan Mahdi repeated the
group's warning against the deployment of T.F.G. forces in districts
controlled by H.I., adding that the I.C.C. had not asked them to negotiate
with Sh.Sharif and that there could be no reconciliation until government
officials had "repented for their sins" and the T.F.G. had reversed "steps
that we view as opposing Islam." Mahdi offered some concessions to the
I.C.C. and T.U.C., which was also engaged in mediation, promising that H.I.
would "not attack any group in Somalia."

Mahdi's promise proved to be empty when, on February 24, elements of H.I.
attacked government forces in south Mogadishu, leading to a major battle.
Armed conflict continued the next day, spreading throughout the southern
districts and escalating from exchanges with light arms to artillery duels
in which the small African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) participated.
When the fighting ended on February 26, more than 50 people had been killed
and more than 300 had been wounded. Residents of the southern districts who
had recently returned to their homes after having been displaced fled once
again, triggering denunciations of the violence from the I.C.C. and T.U.C.,
and calls for AMISOM to desist from shelling.

As armed conflict proceeded, A.R.S.-A leader Sh. Hassan Dahir Aweys
from Eritrea, where the faction is based, that fighting would continue until
AMISOM withdrew from Somalia. Aweys also chastised the I.C.C. for issuing
"fatwas" against a "defensive war." H.I.'s and A.R.S.-A's hardline position
suffered a blow when the latter's defense minister, Yusuf Indha'ade resigned
from H.I., stating that he supported the I.C.C.'s mediation and suggesting
that the armed opposition should wait and see what the clerics could do, and
that his "friend" Sh. Sharif should explain his position to the resistance.
In an interview with Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Sh. Sharif did just that, saying
that "we do not reject jihadist ideology, but we maintain that it must be
disciplined by the Islamic Shari'a tenets." T.U.C. spokesman, Ahmed Diriye
Ali, reported continuing
mediation efforts, and the group's chairman, Mohamed Hassan Haad, said that
AMISOM had promised to withdraw, making further fighting unnecessary.

By February 28, clerical and clan pressure had prompted H.I. to refine its
position. Saying that "fighting is normal between two opposed forces,"
H.I.'s chairman, Dr. Omar Iman, nonetheless announced that his fighters
would stand down and that the party would focus on uniting the groups in its
coalition and forging a common political position. Iman said that H.I. would
"respect" the I.C.C.'s decisions and were "debating them." He dismissed
Indha'ade's resignation, noting that H.I. was a "new party" and that
officials of its constituent groups had agreed to step down from their old
positions and dissolve their organizations.

After the I.C.C. met with the T.F.G.'s prime minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali
Sharmarke, and announced that he had agreed to the implementation of Shari'a
in Somalia, the stage was set for Sh. Sharif to embrace the demands of the
I.C.C. and its T.U.C. co-mediators. In a press conference on February 28,
Sh. Sharif announced that he had "met with religious leaders and elders,"
and had "accepted their demand for ceasefire and reconciliation with
opposition members," adding that "the mediators asked me to introduce
Shari'a in the country and I agree."

Sh. Sharif revealed that he had not met with H.I. face to face. H.I.'s
spokesman, Sh. Muse Abdi Arale, said cryptically that the group "respected"
the elders and that things were moving in the "right direction." That Sh.
Sharif had been mistaken about an agreement or that H.I. had reneged became
apparent on March 1, when Arale said that the group had met with the
mediators, but had only discussed the "partial withdrawal" of its fighters.

Arale reiterated that H.I. would "attack the enemy and their stooges any
time we
want," but would remove its forces from the conflict zones so that residents
could return to their homes. Iman explained that the fighting on February 24
25 was initiated by some elements of H.I. without the agreement of all its
members, and that the group did not want to cause a "mass exodus" of

Since splitting with the A.R.S.'s militant wing in Asmara in 2008 and
his conciliatory faction to Djibouti, Sh. Sharif had consistently promised
clerical constituency that he would achieve their aim of a Shari'a state by
diplomatic means, so, in one sense, it is not surprising that he has sided
them and distanced himself from the coalition of Western donor powers,
international and regional organizations, and regional states. Yet Sh.
Sharif is
dependent on the coalition for financial and security support, and his
to opt for Shari'a strains his relations with the donors, who are likely to
be even more wary than they already are of giving him robust backing - if
they intended to do so in the first place. His decision, then, appears to
have been taken as the result of the pressure of events rather than being
the consequence of a considered strategic reflection.

The winners of the week are the I.C.C. and H.I., which has not joined the
reconciliation process. Sh. Sharif's clerical base had its demand met, and
southern and central Somalia is on its way to rule under some mix of Islamic
political formulas. Sh. Sharif has broken the tug of war over his will
between the clerics and the international coalition by falling into the arms
of the former, yet by doing so he has lost a good deal of his room to
maneuver. His embarrassing failure to bring H.I. on board the T.F.G. signals
his lack of power even in Mogadishu, much less the other southern and
central regions; he has taken a hit and has yet to feel the likely backlash
from disaffected clans and the sub-state of Puntland. Sh. Sharif ended the
week in a less favorable power position, downgraded from protagonist to

As the clerics and the armed opposition gained power and flexed their
muscles in
Mogadishu, al-Shabaab moved to expand and solidify its control in the
Having taken Baidoa, the capital of the Bay region and the former seat of
Somalia's transitional parliament, al-Shabaab faced the possibility of a
counter-attack by clan militias led by officials of the regional government
it had displaced who were mobilizing in the neighboring Bakool region and
were receiving training and support from Ethiopia.

On February 23, Bay and Bakool officials traveled to the town of Yeed on the
border with Ethiopia and received 200 troops whom Ethiopia had trained,
after which they returned to Bakool's capital, Huddur, where Bay's (former)
governor, Abdifatah Mohamed Gesey, rejected mediation between his group and
al-Shabaab that had been undertaken by clan elders. On February 25,
al-Shabaab moved quickly and seized Huddur, putting an end to the threat and
adding Bakool to the growing list of regions where they exert dominant
control. The leaders of the counter-movement then returned to the border,
where they met with Ethiopian officials from whom they requested military
support, which, according to Somali media, was not forthcoming.

In the Gedo region in the far southwest of Somalia and also bordering
Ethiopia, al-Shabaab administrations strengthened their grip on key towns,
prohibiting weapons carrying in Bulo Hawo where clan militias expelled from
the southeastern Jubba regions by Islamist administrations had reportedly
taken refuge. In Bardheere, al-Shabaab continued its program of establishing
its interpretation of Shari'a, banning men and women from traveling on the
same public transport, and imposed a curfew.

The developments of the week placed the entire south of Somalia under at
least the nominal control of al-Shabaab and its allies, rendering null any
hope for Sh. Sharif to influence developments there. In response to the
T.F.G.'s move to Mogadishu, al-Shabaab reiterated its position that it would
continue to attack AMISOM until the peacekeepers withdrew from Somalia, and
took credit for a bombing of an AMISOM base on February 22 that had killed
eleven peacekeepers from Burundi.

As the flow of events moved against Sh. Sharif and towards an Islamist
political formula for southern and central Somalia, the international
coalition maintained its previous positions, seemingly insensible to changes
on the ground. Facing increasing opposition to AMISOM from the I.C.C. and
T.U.C., on February 23, the African Union's Peace and Security Commission
responded to the attack on the Burundian contingent by repeating its usual
calls for beefing up the mission, promising to "speed up" training of a
Somali security force to prop up the T.F.G. and to consult with its
"partners" (Western donor powers) on devising "concrete measures against
extremist elements." Director of the A.U.'s peace and security department,
Jeffrey Mugumya, announced that Uganda and Burundi were committed to sending
a fresh battalion each to Mogadishu, which would bring AMISOM's strength to
5,100 troops, still far short of the 8,000 originally envisioned for the

Meanwhile, opposition to continued participation of Burundi in AMISOM
surfaced, with the major opposition party in the country -FRODEBU - urging a
pull out on the grounds that AMISOM did not have the means to prevail over
the armed opposition, "despite pledges from the international community."
Burundi's defense minister, Lt. Gen. Germain Miyoyankama, admitted that the
situation had "become more difficult since the withdrawal of Ethiopian
troops," and called for a new mandate for AMISOM that would allow the
peacekeepers to respond more robustly to attacks. Nigeria, which had
promised a battalion to the mission, continued to drag its feet, stating
that it was prepared to deploy but was still reassessing the situation.

With political conditions in Somalia transmuting before its eyes, the
Washington-inspired I.C.G., which had originally been a coordination and
pressure group of Western donor powers with the token African participation
of Tanzania, but has now grown to include every conceivable external
"stakeholder" in Somalia that supports the T.F.G., met in Brussels on
February 26 and 27, chaired by the U.N.'s special representative to Somalia,
Ahmedou Ould Abdallah.

The group's communique was pure boiler plate, welcoming the "progress" of
T.F.G., supporting "this new Somali-owned and led peace and reconciliation
process," "underlining" the need to provide "tangible and coordinated
support" to the T.F.G. in order "to protect the political and financial
investment of the international community," welcoming the U.N.'s
"commitment" to train Somali security forces, calling on "partners" to
strengthen AMISOM (they are the "partners"), citing the need to establish
"mechanisms to address atrocities by Somalis against Somalis," and
concluding that political, security and recovery programs are "mutually
reinforcing pillars of the strategy" to render a National Unity Government
in Somalia effective.

Prolonged analysis of the communique is not required to grasp its emptiness
its repetition of promises that have never been kept, its toothless "calls"
for contributions, its maintenance of the illusions that Somalia has a
National Unity Government and that it is making progress, and its neglect to
note that southern and central Somalia appear to be set on a course of
adopting different variants of an Islamic political formula.

Symptomatic of the international coalition's disposition was France's
announcement that funds had been set aside for training ten thousand Somali
security forces, but that troops to protect the trainers were still
required; and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's announcement that he
might start planning, in June or July, for a U.N. peacekeeping mission to
replace AMISOM that has been demanded by the A.U., if conditions are


With Sh. Sharif fighting simply to stay afloat, the I.C.C. growing in
influence, H.I. unwilling to "reconcile," al-Shabaab expanding and
tightening its control in the south, Ethiopia absenting itself for the
moment, and the international community folding its arms as it recites its
irrelevant mantras, southern and central Somalia appear ripe for de facto
partition and civil conflict honeycombed by micro-political tensions at all

The one constant is the tendency towards adoption of Islamism in every
region. Even the moderate Sufi organization Ahlu Sunna Wal-Jaama has come
out in favor of a state based on Islamic law and announced on February 24
that it had formed an administration for the "central regions" where it has
successfully contested al-Shabaab with the support of local clan militias,
most recently taking control of the Adado district in the Galgadud region.

It will take much more than wishful thinking to reverse the process towards
cantonization, which has now become the most likely outcome of Somalia's new
political cycle, and seemingly unthinkable to reverse the tendency towards
Islamic political formula. The Ethiopian occupation of Somalia from December
2006 to December 2008, and the international coalition's chronic negligence
simply to have interrupted temporarily a multi-faceted Islamic revolution in
which the cleric becomes the dominant social type.

Report Drafted By:
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University
 <mailto:weinstem@purdue.edu> weinstem@purdue.edu

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