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"Somalia Reverts to Political Fragmentation"

Friday, February 23, 2007 
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein

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uring the first three weeks of February, Somalia continued its slide into political fragmentation as violent attacks against occupying Ethiopian forces and militias loyal to the Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) persisted on a nearly daily basis, inter-clan fighting continued to break out and the level of crime increased.

Although the T.F.G. claimed to be in control of security in the official capital Mogadishu, local media reported that its forces were failing to patrol the streets and that the Ethiopians were remaining in their bases, which came under attack, leading to exchanges of artillery fire that resulted in scores of deaths and injuries, mainly suffered by civilians. With approval of and pressure from the T.F.G., neighborhoods and businesses recruited their own security forces, restoring the situation that existed before the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.) had made its unsuccessful bid to unify Somalia in an Islamic state during the last half of 2006.

As the T.F.G. proved unable to establish itself as a legitimate and effective governing authority, external actors -- international and regional organizations, Western donor powers, and regional states -- continued to urge the T.F.G. to initiate reconciliation talks that would include conciliatory elements of the formally disbanded I.C.C. and would be geared to the formation of a national unity government, and to press for the deployment of an African Union (A.U.) "stabilization mission" (AMISOM) that would protect the T.F.G. and train its security forces. Although halting progress was made toward both goals, neither had as yet been realized, due to the reluctance of the T.F.G. to share power and of African states to contribute troops to the mission and donor powers to fund it adequately.

Ethiopia, whose invasion of Somalia in December 2006 had defeated the I.C.C. and whose troops and armor had been propping up the T.F.G. since then, had declared that it would pull out of the country in mid-February, but kept its forces there under Western pressure when AMISOM did not materialize as quickly as hoped. Some Ethiopian withdrawals were reported in local media, but they were only of marginal significance.

The T.F.G. failed to make progress on its top priority of disarming independent clan-based militias, which the United Nations reported were once again falling under the control of warlords who had divided Somalia into fiefdoms before the rise of the I.C.C., and suppressing criminal groups and the militant elements of the I.C.C.

The judgment of PINR's February 2 report on Somalia that the country had entered a devolutionary cycle has been confirmed during the past three weeks. Addis Ababa is satisfied with a fragmented Somalia, Western powers and international organizations have not made stabilizing the country a high priority, African states are either unwilling to contribute troops to a conflict zone or will only sign on to a restricted mission, and the T.F.G. is resistant to "inclusive" reconciliation.

Disorder on the Ground

February began with mortar attacks on an Ethiopian base on the northern edge of Mogadishu and a demonstration in the city attended by several hundred protestors who called for the return of the I.C.C. On February 2, mortar attacks on Mogadishu's seaport, a hotel and an Ethiopian base left nine people dead. Later in the day, an explosion at an Islamic girls school wounded seven faculty, and there was a gun battle between sub-clan militias sparked by a property dispute that had been suppressed by the I.C.C. The T.F.G.'s president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, admitted, from Somalia's transitional capital in the south-central town of Baidoa, that "the security situation is getting out of control" and threatened that the T.F.G. would "use force to restore order."

Establishing a pattern that would hold in the coming weeks, most of the attacks were aimed at Ethiopian bases sited in derelict public facilities that housed or were near camps housing internally displaced persons who were the victims of the fighting and who began to flee their shelters.

On February 3, Somali police force colonel, Ali Qalaf, was ambushed and assassinated, an armed gang threw a bomb at a movie theater and militias were reported to be extorting money from motorists in Mogadishu. In the Lower Shabelle region, local media reported that there was no police force and that militias were robbing civilians in the town of Merka and that a truck doubling as a bus was attacked and its passengers robbed.

After a lull on February 4, attacks resumed in Mogadishu on February 5, with six rockets falling at the seaport. Shabelle Media Network reported that government police had withdrawn from the city's streets after repeated attacks on officers. Yusuf blamed not only I.C.C. "remnants," on which the T.F.G. had been laying responsibility for the violence, but also militias loyal to 40 members of the transitional parliament who support reconciliation with the Courts movement and who have taken refuge in Djibouti. Sources for local media claimed that militias loyal to disaffected warlords were behind some of the attacks. On February 6, a mortar round was fired near Villa Somalia, the Mogadishu residence of Yusuf and the T.F.G.'s base in the city.

In the Galgadud region, clashes were reported between local clan militias and forces from the breakaway sub-state of Puntland that had fought alongside the Ethiopians and were returning home. In the Lower Shabelle region, armed robbers opened fire on a bus, wounding three people. In the Lower Jubba region, clan elders were jailed for failing to provide recruits for government security forces.

Violence continued through the week, with rocket attacks on three hotels, kidnappings, daylight assassinations and mortar attacks in neighborhoods with Ethiopian bases. Bus drivers and conductors in Mogadishu set up roadblocks to protest the use of the main road to the Bakara market by overloaded trucks that overturn and block the artery; the I.C.C. had banned such vehicles from that road. On February 8, attackers ambushed an Ethiopian-T.F.G. convoy with rocket propelled grenades, and rockets were fired in several parts of Mogadishu. The first battle between T.F.G. forces and local militias occurred in the Afgoye district near Mogadishu.

On February 9, 600 people demonstrated in north Mogadishu -- the heart of the Hawiye clan, which feels marginalized by the T.F.G. and was the I.C.C.'s main support base -- against the Ethiopian occupation and AMISOM, and burned the flags of the United States, Ethiopia and Uganda, which is slated to lead AMISOM. On February 10, mortar attacks targeted hotels, Mogadishu's airport and the offices of the United Nations Development Program (U.N.D.P.), leaving five people dead and ten injured. For the first time, the People's Resistance Movement (P.R.M.) -- the reorganized militant wing of the I.C.C. -- claimed responsibility for an attack.

On February 11, the strategic southern port city of Kismayo was the scene of a bombing at a ceremony welcoming T.F.G. army commander Abdi Mahdi; south Somali police chief, General Ahmed Mohamed, and four Somali army colonels were killed, spurring a curfew in the city and scores of arrests.

Violence spiked up in Mogadishu on February 12 and 13, with artillery exchanges between attackers and Ethiopian and T.F.G. forces, attacks on police stations and a hotel housing government officials, rocket fire aimed at the seaport and a grenade attack on the house of T.F.G. trade minister, Abdullahi Ahmed Afrah. The T.F.G. announced plans for a curfew in Mogadishu and the Union of Islamic Religious Leaders in the city called for an end to the fighting, urging the T.F.G. to accept the Islamists as peace partners and advising residents to organize neighborhood security forces pending effective government policing. A previously unknown youth group -- the Muqawama -- took responsibility for some of the attacks.

With the T.F.G. and Ethiopian forces setting up checkpoints and private militias funded by businessmen appearing on the streets, Mogadishu was quiet on February 13 and 14. Somali NetRadio reported that the private security forces that were formed after the T.F.G. warned clan elders that any neighborhood from which a bullet was fired would be leveled. A report to the United Nations Security Council (U.N.S.C.) on February 14 claimed that warlords had re-established their control and were threatening the delivery of humanitarian aid, and that the chronic violence would undermine efforts to deploy AMISOM.

Violence resumed in Mogadishu on February 15 with mortar attacks on the seaport, Bakara market and the Hodan district, all of which are sites of Ethiopian bases, leaving four people dead. In Middle Shabelle, armed robberies on travelers continued in the absence of an administration to succeed warlord Mohamed Dheere who had relinquished authority to the T.F.G. in January. Shabelle Media Network reported that forces loyal to Dheere had prevented the new administration from taking control. Garowe Online reported that in the western Hiraan region, Islamist militia crossing from the Galgadud region had taken over the Matabaan district, the first such occupation reported since the Ethiopian invasion.

Attacks mounted through the end of the third week of February with mortars fired at an Ethiopian base in south Mogadishu and at the seaport. On February 18, gunmen in a truck opened fire on a car carrying Somali government soldiers, killing one and injuring two others. Another attack on T.F.G. forces the same day left two dead and three wounded. Shabelle Media Network again reported that the police had withdrawn from the streets and interviewed traders at the Bakara market who complained that armed robbery was rampant and that business had plunged. In a move to finance security operations, the regional administration of Banadir region, which includes Mogadishu, set up its own checkpoints to collect taxes from travelers. Despite the preponderance of reports to the contrary, the deputy mayor on Banadir in charge of finance, Hasan Muhammad Nur, said, "It is not true that people are fleeing Mogadishu."

The violence continued on February 19 with an attack on a police battlewagon that injured five officers and a shoot out between rival militias collecting tolls on motorists, and spiked to its highest level since the Ethiopian occupation when, on February 20, mortar fire was aimed at three Ethiopian and T.F.G. bases, triggering artillery barrages in response that killed 15 people and wounded 45.

Local media reported that thousands of residents were fleeing Mogadishu for surrounding areas in the Banadir region, their native regions, the breakaway sub-state of Somaliland and Yemen. On the same day, Shabelle Media Network reported that a dispute between the Sade and Harti sub-clans over which one should administer the resources of the Lower Jubba region had prevented the new T.F.G.-appointed administration of the region from functioning.

On February 21, two city officials -- a district commissioner and a deputy district commissioner -- were assassinated in Mogadishu. Garowe Online reported that the killings were linked to attempts to organize neighborhood militias. On February 22, a local militia engaged in a firefight with gunmen preparing to set up a mortar. The same day, rockets were fired at the airport. Warlords were reported to be purchasing large quantities of weapons at Mogadishu's Bakara market, including Mohamed Qanyare Afrah, Mohamed Dheere and Abdi Nour Siad.

The partial tabulation of violent incidents, protests and local conflicts during the first three weeks of February has been chronicled by PINR to give readers a sense of the persistent and deepening instability that characterizes Somalia today, and to temper statements by the T.F.G., Western powers, and regional and international organizations that the country has a "window of opportunity" to form a legitimate and effective government that would reverse the devolutionary cycle.

Taken separately, the events on the ground have not caused the collapse of the T.F.G. or forced the Ethiopians to withdraw from Somalia; taken together, they show the T.F.G. and the Ethiopians to be on the defensive and embattled, probably by multiple forces, and the population to be seeking safety in sub-clans. As PINR has noted before, the longer the devolutionary cycle goes on and deepens, the more difficult it will be for the T.F.G. to become a viable authority, whether or not reconciliation talks are held and/or AMISOM is deployed. Rather than making progress since the end of January, the T.F.G. has lost ground and is more dependent than ever on the support of external actors. As the T.F.G. gropes for a purchase, Somalia reverts to political fragmentation.

The T.F.G. Attempts to Consolidate

The security situation on the ground in Somalia has deteriorated to the point that it now conditions the political responses of all players with stakes in the country's future. Long-term interests are sacrificed for ad hoc adjustments and the players have become desperate and paralyzed, the latter being due either to their weakness or to their relative indifference following from more intense interests and commitments elsewhere.

Within the context of disorder on the ground, the T.F.G. executive -- dominated by Yusuf and its prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi -- tried to consolidate its political power over the transitional institutions and expand its legal authority over Somalia, as it made tentative efforts to start the reconciliation process desired by external actors and elements of dissident clans, civil society organizations and moderate Islamists.

The first move of the T.F.G. executive was to gain control over the transitional parliament, whose speaker, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, had been ousted in January for having conducted unauthorized negotiations with I.C.C. officials, after which his faction of 40 legislators had removed themselves from Somalia to Djibouti. On February 1, the transitional parliament elected Sheikh Aden Mohamed Nour, an ally of Yusuf and Gedi, as its new speaker. Nour, who had lost a race for the post to Adan in 2004, was known to be opposed to negotiations with the I.C.C. Western powers, which had considered Adan a key figure in building a unity government and had urged the T.F.G. to rescind his removal, were displeased, and Adan's faction claimed that Nour had been imposed by Addis Ababa and refused to grant him legitimacy.

On February 3, Yusuf demanded that Djibouti return the dissident legislators to Somalia and was refused. On February 19, Nour said that several sub-clans represented by Adan's faction had asked for replacement of the dissidents and that he would decide on the matter shortly. The dissidents replied that they would not return to Somalia until Ethiopian forces withdrew from the country.

With the transitional parliament under their control, Yusuf and Gedi presented an anti-terrorism law to the T.F.G. cabinet on February 5 that the cabinet ratified on February 12. The law, which would make permanent features of the "state of emergency" declared by the T.F.G. in January, contained penalties of execution, life imprisonment, confiscation of property and deportation for those convicted of terrorism, which was defined by T.F.G. information minister, Madobe Nunow Mohammed, as any acts that destabilized peace and security. The measure met with opposition from some legislators who said that it would exacerbate conflict and weaken the T.F.G.'s legitimacy.

On February 21, transitional parliament deputy Khadijo Mohamed Dirie told Garowe Online that legislators were being made subject to continuous harassment, searches and questioning by security forces in Baidoa under the state of emergency.  Continued...

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