“We don’t want foreign troops” and
“Down with Ethiopia” read the placards of protesters, who AP described as supporters of the Islamic Courts Union
(ICU) — the heterogenous Islamic alliance that in June last year ousted the warlords who had dominated Mogadishu since
the early ’90s.
The ICU regime, which had progressively taken control of much of Somalia,
was overthrown in December by an Ethiopian invasion force backed — financially and militarily — by the US.
In theory, the Transitional Federal Government — a UN-supported body that for most of its existence has led only a nominal
existence — is now in control of the country. Since its formation
the TFG has been based in Baidoa. So limited is its power that Abdullahi Yusuf, Somalia’s “president”, has
been unable to visit the capital for more than 20 years. The TFG has been involved in a shifting series of alliances with
the Mogadishu warlords, whose domination of the capital
was characterised by chaos, violence, economic dysfunction and misery for the majority of the city’s residents.
ICU — which is accused by the US
of hiding al Qaeda members involved in the 1998 embassy bombings of Kenya
and Tanzania (the ICU denies this) —
grew in influence from the mid-1990s, in large part from the provision of basic services such as education, which were virtually
non-existent after 1991. The courts also provided legal services, based on varied interpretations of sharia law.
The ouster of the ICU has raised the prospect
of warlord rule once again dominating the country. Part of the ICU’s popular appeal was that, despite some of the courts
implementing socially regressive policies, they provided a modicum of stability. The
fall of the ICU has raised the possibility of the country once again being dominated by warlordism. AP reported that “Factional
violence has again become a feature of life in Mogadishu
since the Islamic movement fled. Mortar and grenade attacks have also been launched against Ethiopian and government troop
garrisons in the city.”
Behind the ICU’s rise:
has blown up in our face, frankly.” This blunt assessment by John Prendergast — a former adviser to the National
Security Council and the US State Department who is currently working for the International Crisis Group — wasn’t
about the January bombing of villages in southern Somalia by the United States. Prendergast was speaking some eight months
ago about the clandestine US project of funding
the warlords to try to quell the rise of radical Islamist forces in the north-eastern African country.
He told the
June 8, 2006, New York Times that through
the CIA’s program of helping to fund weapons for Somali warlords the US had “strengthened the hand of the people
whose presence we were most worried about” — the ICU.
Since the 22-year dictatorship of Mohamed Said Barre
was ended in 1991, Somalia has been a country
without a state. The TFG, formed in late 2004, is the 14th attempt to create a government since the Barre regime collapsed.
Throughout the period after Barre’s fall, factions of the former national army have formed into rival warlord-controlled
militias. The warlords split the capital into fiefdoms and have waged bloody battles for control of the country.
denies funding the warlords, although aid workers with the Red Cross and other organisations in Mogadishu
told the June 5, 2006, Newsweek that they had seen “many Americans with thick necks
and short haircuts moving around carrying big suitcases”. This policy created
a lot of controversy even within the Bush administration. In April 2006, Somalia
expert Michael Zorick was given an early transfer from his diplomatic post in Kenya
after sending out a memo critical of the policy of funding warlords, which has been estimated at between US$100,000 and $150,000
per month. The policy, in keeping with much of the “behind the scenes” activity of the CIA in the “war on
terror”, prompted former CIA counter-terrorism official Philip Giraldi to comment: “We’re creating a new
mess. Everything is tactical with this administration: catching a guy, catching a guy. I don’t see that anyone has thought
about the strategic issue of losing support.” John Abizaid — head
of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) — visited Ethiopia
on December 4, just weeks before Addis Ababa launched its
invasion of Somalia. There are reports
that US special operations forces have been in Somalia
as far back as June last year.
A return to warlord rule?
military presence of Ethiopia, a US
proxy and longtime enemy of Somalia
due to contended territory in the Ogaden, will also spark outrage and may, ironically, further strengthen support for the
ICU. Ethiopia has claimed that it will withdraw
all its troops by mid-February as they are replaced by AU forces, however the TFG looks like it will remain dependent on some
combination of foreign backing and warlord alliances for its survival. US
airstrikes ostensibly targeting the ICU militia fighters as they withdrew from Mogadishu have undoubtedly fuelled the flames
of anti-US sentiment in Somalia — a country that has seen more than its fair share of clumsy, bloody interventions by
Some members of the TFG were very much in favour of the US
airstrikes. Yusuf commented that “the Americans are cracking down on al-Qaeda terrorists all over the world and this
was part of it” — this, despite the US
bombing Somali in January, killing up to 31 people.
Aljazeera.com reported on January 11 that “More than 100
Somali civilians have been killed this week in U.S.
and Ethiopian air strikes in southern Somalia,
according to clan elders and residents”.
Absuge Mohamed Weli, a Dhobley resident, said: “I
was with a team sent to the bombardment areas near the Dhobley village to bury the dead, what I have seen was really terrible.
I counted 29 dead people, some of them burned so they could not be identified, and we have buried them. I have seen more dead
bodies in the forest, I recognised some of them and they were local civilians.” He added: “They were killed while
keeping their animals. I have also seen animals, most of them cows, dead in villages.”
From: International News, Green
Left Weekly issue #697 7 February 2007.