Probably the most recent period the majority of people are familiar with in Somalia are the events covered in Black Hawk Down. But a little back-story is necessary to preface that as well. Although Somalia has not been what you'd call a prosperous nation for a long time, as late as 1976 they had the wherewithal to launch an attack on Ethiopia in an effort to capture (or recapture) the Ogaden in an effort to create a greater Somalia. The reasons for that require way too much history to cover here, but this Wikipedia entry will get you started. The US backed leader Siad Barre until 1989. During the 80's, other Somali factions began to challenge his government. The rebellion culminated in 1991 with Barre's ouster from Mogadishu. Although he continued fighting until 1992, the "real" government of Somalia had effectively been destroyed. The most powerful leader of Anti-Barre factionists was Mohamed Farrah Aidid. In October 1993, the US attempted to oust him as well in favor of pro-US factions. After the attempt failed, the US and all international interest effectively left the country. For the past 15 years the only groups that have been there openly were charitable aid groups. There have probably been US or US-supported intelligence agents in Somalia since that time, since we have had intelligence coming out of there. The 90's was basically the decade of the warlords, as they continued their infighting, destroying more and more of the infrastructure of the country. During the same period, an institution arose that is traditional in Islamic nations. Self-organized Islamic courts arose to provide some semblance of law (of course, their law is the Sharia). Since Somalia is an almost entirely Muslim nation, this was greeted with acceptance and many people submitted themselves to the law of the courts, funding them out of their own pocket. The Islamic Courts Union was formed as a militia to protect these courts and enforce their laws.
This brings us up to the beginnings of the present situation. With the Islamic Courts established as a force on the national political scene, the warlords began to feel threatened, especially as more and more people willingly joined the ICU. They began fighting the ICU sporadically in 1999, and in February 2006 a group of warlords formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism to try to finally defeat the ICU. In June of this year, the ICU had effectively defeated the ARPCT and controlled the capital. The Wikipedia article sums up the rest:
On June 6, 2006 the ICU further claimed they were in control of all the lands up to 100 kilometers inland from Mogadishu. The warlords were reported to have either been captured or to have fled the city, abandoning most of their weapons, with the majority fleeing to Jowhar, which was taken by the ICU militia on June 14. The ICU now has control of much of the weaponry in the country which makes a resurgence by the warlords difficult without outside support. The ICU also controls significant territory outside the capital, which includes the important town of Balad.
The ICU's control of Mogadishu and much of the surrounding land indicates that the ICU is in control of Somalia's future. However, it should be stated that simply from looking at the map, the ICU does not control a majority of the land of Somalia, merely a sizable minority. It's possible that warlords, with enough outside backing, could once again challenge the ICUs authority. The situation in Somalia right now is very complex and fluid, and will keep changing for some time until it reaches a stable position. Because I've presented the history of the situation succinctly, there are some elements of the story that I've left out which I want to go into in further detail.
It bears mentioning that although the ICU is the effective government of Somalia, the international community recognizes the Transitional National Government. Some details from the CIA factbook:
The mandate of the Transitional National Government (TNG), created in August 2000 in Arta, Djibouti, expired in August 2003. A two-year peace process, led by the Government of Kenya under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), concluded in October 2004 with the election of Abdullahi YUSUF Ahmed as Transitional Federal President of Somalia and the formation of a transitional government, known as the Somalia Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs). The Somalia TFIs include a 275-member parliamentary body, known as the Transitional Federal Assembly (TFA), a transitional Prime Minister, Ali Mohamed GHEDI, and a 90-member cabinet. The TFIs are currently divided between Mogadishu and Jowhar, but discussions to co-locate the TFIs in one city are ongoing. Suspicion of Somali links with global terrorism further complicates the picture.
The TNG wields no effective power, but recently was recognized as a legitimate government by the ICU.
I did not mention before that the US is believed to have been funneling money to the ARPCT to combat the ICU.
Officials refused to discuss any possible involvement in Somalia, but a US expert on the country said an operation to support the secular warlords involved the CIA and US military.
John Prendergast, who monitors Somalia for the think-tank International Crisis Group, said he learned during meetings with alliance members in Somalia that the CIA was financing the warlords with cash.
Prendergast estimated that CIA-operated flights into Somalia have been bringing in US$100,000 to US$150,000 per month.
The flights remained in Somalia for the day, he said, so that US agents could confer with their allies.
Perhaps one quote from a supposed expert isn't very convincing, but the President of Somalia also believes the US is supporting the warlords (and isn't happy about it). Also, the evasiveness of US officials answering questions is always telling.
On May 3 in Stockholm, President Ahmed said that he believed the US was helping warlords. “The Americans should tell the warlords they should support the government and co-operate,” he said.
That charge of US involvement has been supported by many analysts. However, on Wednesday Sean McCormack, State Department spokesman, refused to answer direct questions. He said only that the US was working with the interim government “as well as responsible members of the Somali political spectrum”, whom he declined to name.
Furthermore, this kind of support is to be expected from President Bush's administration, which apparently sees any Muslim-led government as a threat. I don't make that claim for no reason though. The US has long claimed the existence or influence of Al-Quaeda in Somalia. The supposed connection is through a group called Al-Ittihad al-Islami. If you follow that page down, the first link is to a State Department document on terrorist groups. If you read that document, it very briefly says that they believe that members of the group received training in Afghanistan (which is the basis for the Al-Quaeda connection) and that they know they get money and arms from international financiers. It does not tell us who these financiers are.
The former leader of Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys is now the "leader" of the ICU. He personally is supposed to have been trained in Afghanistand and his organization was supposedly funded by Osama Bin-Laden. Again, the evidence for this isn't outstanding, but it is possible. But even if that's the case, the courts weren't founded by a bunch of terrorist groups. As PINR writes:
The first Islamic court in Mogadishu was formed in 1996, shortly after the withdrawal of the U.N. mission, by Sheikh Ali Deere. Since then, the number of these bodies has grown to 14. Rooted in clan-controlled neighborhoods and supported by clan-based businessmen and clan-related members of the Somali diaspora, whose remittances are essential to the country's economy, the clerical courts have gained legitimacy and popular support through their ability to provide a semblance of judicial order based on Shari'a law. Over time, they acquired their own militias and expanded their functions to running clinics and schools.
This brings up a point I'd like to make about why I don't think this ICU is the beginning of a terrorist state. US leaders are underestimating the extreme clannishness of the Somalis. The title of Scott Peterson's book "Me Against My Brother" comes from an old Arab saying, modified by a Somali to be something like this, if I remember correctly: "Me against my brother, my brother and I against the clan, the clan against the enemy." These are not a highly inclusive people.
This quote from Aweys is informative (from Kevin Site's Hotzone):
The United States lists Al-Ittihad al-Islami as a foreign terrorist group and has frozen its assets within U.S. jurisdictions.
Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys is a leader of the group and was once a colonel in the Somali army. Aweys denies any al-Qaida connections, but does say he wants Somalia to become a theocracy.
"The only reason Western powers say that al-Qaida is in Somalia is because they are afraid that Somalia will become an Islamic state and they will do everything they can to stop that," Aweys says. "I believe there's not even one person in Somalia connected to al-Qaida. We are one clan, one color, one language. We would not accept foreigners (al-Qaida) here."
"The FBI, people like you (journalists) and other groups who are often in the shadows always say al-Qaida is in Somalia," says Aweys, dismissively.
Interim President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed "also said two years ago there were al-Qaida training camps here. Well, the FBI came here, journalists came here and there were no training camps. It's just not true. We all know each other in Somalia. We would know if al-Qaida was here."
And of course you can't necessarily trust a guy who may have been trained by Al-Quaeda to tell the truth about such a thing. But he makes the same point I made, which is that the extreme insularity of the Somalis is definitely a hindrance. I'm pretty sure that if a bunch of Arabs came to set up a training camp in Somalia, they'd end up dead sooner or later. From the same article, one of the warlords we were funding is also dismissive of the idea of Al-Quaeda in Somalia:
Even some of America's closest allies, like Atto, are skeptical about the presence of al-Qaida operatives in Somalia.
"I don't believe [it] and I have not seen any al-Qaida cells in this country," says Atto, "but there are certain elements of so-called extremists that are taking advantage of the situation we are in."
I'm not going to outright dismiss the possibility that there are (or at least were) Arab terrorists in Somalia. But if Somalis on both sides say that there is no Al-Queda in Somalia, we're probably barking up the wrong tree, despite the fact that Bin-Laden retroactively claimed involvement in the Battle of Mogadishu. In any case, I think that in order to keep extremists from gaining superiority, we should, instead of fighting the ICU, simply offer to recognize them as an authority and deal with them diplomatically, extending an offer to them as long as they remain moderate. I think that might work since most Somalis are moderate muslims, and the majority of the ICU is composed of moderates. Here's an asessment of Islam in Somalia:
Somalis in general show little interest in jihadi Islamism; most are deeply opposed. Somali militant movements have failed to gain broad popular support, encountering instead widespread hostility. The most remarkable feature is that Islamist militancy has not become more firmly rooted in what should, by most conventional assessments, be fertile ground.
Nevertheless, since the collapse of the government in 1991, a variety of Islamist reformist movements have sprung up inside the country – some inspired or sponsored by foreign interests. The vast majority are non-violent and opposed to ideological extremism. The largest groups, notably Jama’at al-Tabligh and the Salafiyya Jadiida, practise missionary activism aimed at steering lax Muslims back towards the true path of their faith. A much smaller proportion, including Harakaat al-Islah and Majma’ ‘Ulimadda Islaamka ee Soomaaliya, are politically active but not extremist, struggling rather to influence the future of the Somali state and its political system. By far the smallest reformist groups are those composed of jihadis, such as the now-defunct al-Itihaad al-Islaami and the new, nameless one fronted by Aden Hashi ‘Ayro.
As distrustful of us as they are, the last thing we need to be doing is antagonizing the only authority in Somalia, which is a sure way to lose exactly the influence that we desire. Although I'm not over there and don't know firsthand, it does sound like we could at least talk to these guys through proxies like friendly Arab countries in order to have a hand in stabilizing this country.
However, it's not all hunky-dory. Even as the ICU seems to be firmly in control and bound to extend that control, other nations may involve themselves in Somalia's internal workings due to real or perceived threats. From BBC News:
A United Nations report, which called for a tighter arms embargo on Somalia, said that Ethiopia was supplying weapons to the interim government while Eritrea was arming the Islamic courts.
Some fingers have been pointed towards Saudi Arabia and others to wealthy foreign supporters of Islamic militancy.
Also from BBC News:
The new leader of the Islamist group that controls much of southern Somalia is a threat to Ethiopia, says Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Mr Meles says security along its border has been increased in case of "the resurgence of Jihadists in Mogadishu".
Mr Meles accused Ethiopia's long-time rival Eritrea of backing Mogadishu's Islamic courts, whose militia recently seized power of the capital from an alliance of warlords. Eritrea denies these accusations.
Eritrea and Ethiopia have a recent history of bad blood. Since their struggle for freedom, which lasted 29 years ending in 1991, Eritrea has also fought a second war with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000. Although hostilities are essentially over, they have still had problems over border demarcation.
Whether he's actually being two-faced or not, President Yusuf is friendly with the Ethiopian government. He favors the use of peacekeepers (probably African Union, not UN) in Somalia, which the ICU is vehemently opposed to. Read this from AllAfrica.com:
The President of the Transitional National Government, Abdulahi Yusuf, said on Tuesday that Ethiopia had never mobilized any army into Somalia, and that the Somalian government would soon move to Mogadishu, the capital city.
According to Abdulahi Yusuf, told a press conference at the African Union Hall, an Islamist extremist group had controlled the cities Mogadishu and Jowhar, but the accusations this group hurled against the Ethiopian government were groundless. "Not one member of the Ethiopian army has stepped into Somalian territory. And we do not need any foreign support to protect ourselves since there is no threat to the security of the Somalian government in Baidoa," said Abdulahi Yusuf.
Yusuf said that he had come to Addis Ababa to hold consultations with the Ethiopian government and the African Union on current issues and on how the African Union would send a peacekeeping force to Somalia urgently. "The Somalian parliament has unanimously decided to let the peacekeeping force into the country. The Islamist extremists oppose this decision for they fear that Mogadishu will be taken away from them. They have no government authority in Somalia. They do not even represent the smallest minority of the Somalian population. Only we can make decisions since Somalian government has been legally entrusted to us," said Yusuf, adding that the peacekeeping force would shortly enter Somalia.
So in short, Ethiopia is aligned with Yusuf and Eritrea is aligned with the ICU. This is a troublesome situation, with possibly explosive results. Wars tend not to stay where they should when forces cross boundaries in order to flank an enemy and refugees by the tens of thousands pour out into neighboring countries. Although not all of the nations surrounding them would necessarily want to be involved militarily, if the situation degenerates they might feel they have to. I'm not an expert on Africa, but it's evident that violence here could be widespread and extremely bad. Western nations, as usual, probably would not intervene, although if President Bush views this as part of the war on terror, he could make some extremely ill-advised choices about funding certain parties of the war.
Unfortunately, it looks like Ethiopia is taking some action on its own, although to what end is not clear. It appears to be in support of President Yusuf, although how provocation of the ICU is supposed to help, I'm not sure.
MOGADISHU, Somalia - About 100 Ethiopian troops crossed the border into Somalia on Saturday, witnesses said, the latest sign that Ethiopia might try to bolster this country's weak interim government as an Islamic militia gains power.
I think it would behoove us to prove that we are not a short-sighted, ignorant nation that thinks that any Islamic nation must be suspect by entering into direct dialog with the ICU. The ICU seems to be prepared to negotiate a government including President Yusuf, although some elements (namely Aweys) oppose any kind of government that is not based on Islamic law. There must be some kind of peaceful agreement we can come to. Unless the ICU is just mouthing words, they appear to want an end to war in Somalia (which, if you recall, is kind of why they were formed).
Earlier Saturday, a member of the interim government urged the Islamic militia to compromise. Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adam, speaker of the Parliament, spoke during celebrations marking the 46th anniversary of Somalia's independence from Italy.
"If both sides compromise, we can share what we have," Adam said.
Let's hope so.