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The moment of truth for Hizbul-Islam: Time to review the deal with Al-Shabab

By Hassan M. Khalif
Sunday, October 25, 2009

This article concisely examines the state of affairs and the defining moment that Hizbul-Islam is going through and at the same time proposes the possible way forward for the group.


Hizbul-Islam is an Islamist rebellious group fighting against the Somali Transitional Federal Government. Founded after the conclusion of Djibouti Reconciliation conference, it is an amalgam of four Islamist groups which merged to fight the new Somali government of Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The four groups, among the residue of the Union of Islamic Courts, were ARS-Asmara of Sheikh Hassan Daher Aweys, Jabhatul-Islam (Islamic Front), Ras Kamboni Brigade of Sheikh Hassan Abdullahi Hersi (Hassan Turki) and Anole group.


Of late events have been unfolding unfavorably for Hizbul-Islam to the extent that the broad picture of it has become dimly pathetic as it is faced by an existence -threatening situation. It is widely believed that Hizbul-Islam is apparently on the brink of collapsing after more of its fighters started to join either the government or evaporate while the more extreme elements of them are desperately joining Al-Shabab.

Since the outset, Hizbul-Islam has not been spared the fragmentation feature of the Somali associations and groupings. One of the first challenges that faced it was the premature internal power struggle and clashes, less than 90 days from its formation, which divided it into two splinter groups; one faction led by Sheikh Omar Iman Abubakar and later Sheikh Hassan Daher Aweys and the other by Yusuf Mohamed said (Inda-Ade), the defense secretary, who later entered negotiations and joined the transitional government. However, the core of the group has remained rebellious and turned down the offer of ceasefire and peaceful settlement of the impasse.

The dramatic story began when Sheikh Daher Aweys returned home from Asmara at the end of April 2009. The Sheikh immediately replaced Sheik Omar Iman Abu Bakar, for probably being too moderate for the task, to lead the unified outfit. Not only he took over the chair of Hizbul-Islam but also decided to form unholy association with Al-Shabab movement, another more radically insurgent group suspected of having links with Al-qaida. Some observers assumed that the move was to build a stronger front to relentlessly do violence to the Somali government forces and the African Union peacekeepers in the capital by conducting joint operations. Others concluded that the mixture was meant to get better access to resources from the global terror network.

Although I have not come across a written concord between Al-Shabab and Hizbul-Islam, during my research on this article, yet the two groups reportedly sealed a deal to unite in their anarchistic campaign against the transitional government. At one point, the head of Al-Shabaab's political affairs, Sheikh Hussein Ali Fidow, clearly and loudly announced that they had signed a significant agreement with their brothers, Hizbul-Islam. Likewise, Sheikh Hassan Daher of Hizbul-Islam himself expressed, more than one occasion, his desire for a merger with Al-Shabab.

The fundamental difference between Al-Shabab and Hizbul-Islam basically lies in their opinion and attitude (ideology); Hizbul-Islam is roughly predisposed towards politics with at least some sort of national agenda where as Al-Shabab is inclined to a demagogically armed crusade by way of dogmatic reading of Islam (with at least some sort of foreign agenda)

The Concern about the threats of Al-Shabab is not new to Hizbul-Islam. When Al-shabab was the de facto military wing of the Union of Islamic Courts in 2006, their behavior was detrimentally disadvantageous to the nascent administration. In essence, Al-Shabab is apparently so eccentric to the extent that one can say Somalis have never understood them. Almost everyone marvels at what these youngsters are doing at least the way they interpret Islam and consequent violent actions. For this reason, I do not have the slightest doubt that they will put Hizbul-Islam exactly on the path on which they put the union of Islamic Courts. They assassinated some top leaders of the ex-courts.  A case in point is how ignobly they behaved towards the Hizbul-Islam Militiamen after the Kismayu confrontation by disintegrating some Hizbul-Islam militias or forcing them to join their ranks.

All along since the unholy alliance was established between the two groups,  Al-Shabab has been exclusively forming administrative councils for the areas they control. Hizbul-Islam is being kept away from the machinery. Moreover, Al-Shabab systematically occupies the locales wherever Hizbul-Islam tactically or desperately vacates.

Owing to the recent infighting in the strategic southern port of Kismayo, 500 kilometers from Mogadishu, Al Shabaab and Hizbul-Islam severed their affiliation. A further intensification of the wrangling is the misgiving on the part of Hizbul-Islam that Al-Shabab has allegedly started to eliminate the top commanders and the officials of Hizbul Islam just like they did to the Islamic Courts Union bosses when the latter declared their support to government of Sharif Sheik Ahmed. Al Shabaab assassinated/assaulted some prominent leaders and commanders of the Islamic Courts Union and lastly succeeded in ousting them from as many bases as they could.

The defeat of Hizbul-Islam in Kismayu is a both militarily and politically serious blow. Most experts on Somali politics and analysts believe that Kismayu has, over the years of the civil strife, born out to be the mother of power struggle in Somalia perhaps because of its advantageously economic viability and abundance in terms of the sea resources, rivers, farmlands and livestock. Consequently, any group/leader which is defeated in Kismayu will be truly cast out of the political arena at least for a while!

The leadership of Hizbul-Islam or rather Sheikh Hassan Daher has not learnt his lessons. He still continues to misread the political reality and the international and regional circumstances surrounding Somalia and alternatively opts for a violent means as way of advancing his political ambitions. When he returned home from exile, he should have deliberated the imperative stipulations of the day; i.e.: 
     Sacrificing for peace and sitting with President Sharif and his government, despite the perceived errors, to stop the bloodshed of the innocent people.
- Carrying on the national project and the objectives, for which he has fought for, in a peaceful manner to save the country from foreign interventions and conspiracies.

Unfortunately the sheikh insisted, for whatever calculation, on continuing the war against the government even though the Sharif’s government declared unconditional reconciliation for those who were left behind. In this way, the Sheikh lost a golden opportunity.

Now, let us ask, what are the results of the course of action Sheikh Daher chose upon his return from Asmara? Is Sheikh Hassan too important to join the government and work with Sharif Sheikh Ahmed again? It is two times in this week alone that he is saying he does not want to reconcile. We all remember the heady days of the two men’s companionship when president Sharif and Sheikh Hassan Daher were the most prominent leaders of the
now-defunct Islamic Courts Union and co-leaders of the ensuing Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia. It is not too late to make up. The good thing I honestly believe is that president Sharif and Prime Mister Sharmarke are both willing to meet Sheikh Daher half-way notwithstanding by gone actions of the Sheikh.


The results are nothing than the killing of hundreds of innocent lives and displacement of thousands of the helpless people. The worse end result is the perceptible conclusion that there is no difference between the former warlords and the once admired Islamic leaders in terms of the hostilities, displacement and lack of responsibility/flexibility.


At this juncture, Hizbul-Islam is required of the moral courage to say in public what they surreptitiously believe deep inside them; that is to confess that they have adopted an erroneous approach in their pursuit of political ascendancy by seeking a merger with Al-Shabab and using violent means to achieve their political aspirations. Lamentably, Hizbul-Islam could have been more popular if its leadership directed it differently. 

At present, Hizbul-Islam is at a weak negotiating point because of the opportunities they are repetitively losing. Its leadership is not pragmatic enough in striking while the iron is hot. At one point, at their height of assault in May-June 2009, they could have shown
their readiness for a political partnership by negotiating for possible political settlement and power-sharing!


Finally, my conclusion is that if Hizbul-Islam continues with the present upheaval, believe it or not, the most likely inevitable eventuality is total breakdown. Therefore, I wish to put forward some recommendations for Hizbul-Islam leadership to consider:

v  Having the Transitional government of Sharif agreed to accept the implementation of Sharia law, it is, for all practical reasons, pointless to continue the war under the pretext of implementing the sharia.  

v  As it is never too late to repent, it’s time to correct the slip-ups and resolve differences by setting off on true national dialogue with the government.

v  As the situation in Somalia is still capable of being resolved, negotiate unconditionally to save the country from further chaos.

v  As the Somali people are weary of the civil strife and the foreign intervention, it is time to end the gun culture and cultivate a culture of peace.


Oh! Allah guide Hizbul-Islam, so they return to the right course of nation-saving and nation-building.

Hassan M. Khalif 
[email protected]