Thursday, July 06, 2006

Somalia Update

Well, as I said in my previous post, it's a very fluid situation over there. Even as I was looking at articles over a couple of days, we started to see that the Islamic hardliners (those who want to govern based on Sharia law) were taking precedence. Evidently, they're ready to claim the leadership of the ICU from the moderates.

As a side note, this is why it's always bad to be a moderate. You want to be inclusive and let everyone have their say, but the hardliners think it's perfectly fine to kick you out of government.

A group of largely moderate Muslim leaders who took control of Somalia's capital a month ago has been pushed aside in recent days by radicals determined to create a strict Islamic state there, according to Somali and other political analysts.

Leading the drive has been Hassan Dahir Aweys, whom the United Nations and the United States consider a terrorist with ties to al-Qaeda. Aweys's June 24 appointment as head of the Islamic militias ruling Mogadishu, the capital, has been followed by the installation of like-minded lieutenants in other key posts and the demotion of moderates such as the previous leader, Sharif Ahmed, analysts say.

Needless to say, this is not a good development from most anyone else's point of view (except perhaps for Eritrea, playing spoiler to Ethiopia). It's makes the US even less likely to try to enter talks with the ICU, and more likely to antagonize them by refusing to admit that they're the real government of Somalia.

At the same time as that was happening, another decision has been made by forces outside Somalia.

On Sunday, the 53-country African Union announced plans to send peacekeeping troops into Somalia -- over the vehement objections of the militias in Mogadishu, who have repeatedly made clear their opposition to incursions by foreign forces.

This is the first time that the AU has decided to get involved with Somalia. There are two points of view why they are getting involved now. One is that it is happening because only now that there is some semblance of internal order and the warlords have been greatly weakened (both due to a new receptiveness to peace among the populace) does any outside force realistically have a chance at maintaining order. The other viewpoint is that this is a move by a union of nations who are dead set against having an Islamist government in their midst, and they are only using the pretext of peacekeeping as an excuse for loading the countries with their troops who will then disarm the ICU and replace them with the Transitional government, which has no power but does have the international legitimacy.

This is a delicate situation. I know that we must strive to keep Somalia from turning into a unified, hardline Islamist state that's completely unfriendly to the US. But in striving against it, we could create the very thing that we fear. If we oppose the ICU in its entirety, including the moderates, we could unify them all against us. But it's entirely possible that a government that wishes to impose the Sharia will fail on its own.

Some Somalis hold out hope that the same loose coalition of businessmen, activists and clan elders that helped drive out the warlords will soon turn against the militias as power breeds brashness.

Ali Iman Sharmarke, a businessman and radio journalist in Mogadishu, said he believed the Islamic militias would lose power if they grew too strict in their interpretation of religious law. "People will hate them as they hated the warlords," Sharmarke said from Nairobi. "The moderates will not fly with bin Laden."

At present, there's no way to judge if that's true or not, but the fact that anyone is saying that means that there are people over there we can deal with, other than simply insisting that the TNG is the legitimate government and only talking to them. We must have multilateral talks, and I think it's fair that we insist on them following the democratic process in return for aid from Western and African countries. Even if we don't end up installing the TNG as the official government, surely it's better to have made friends (or at least, non-enemies) of whatever Islamic government comes to power than to see Somalia devolve into war again.

1 comment:

Xanthippas said...

At the very least we must involve ourselves. It's not good enough to simply side against the hardliners and behind the scenese be funding warlords who've brought nothing but misery to the country. That strategy was a mistake in the first place, and it remains a mistake. Of course, you can't count on the Bush administration to talk to anyone it doesn't like that it doesn't absolutely have to talk to.