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Pacifying Somalia: United in Extremism

The War on Terror is preventing security in Somalia

By Liam Bailey


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The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) did something that many before them had tried and failed. They brought peace and security from complete chaos and total violence in areas under their control in southern and central Somalia after July 2006. For the first time in fifteen years children could go to school safely and hospital's could treat the sick instead of wounded. And with no gunmen on the streets to charge truck drivers fees for safe passage food prices dropped.


The previous 15 years of violence had filled a power vacuum left by the ousting of Dictator Siad Barre, as Somalia's many warlords, clans and sub-clans vied for a bigger piece of the pie. The Islamic Courts within the union that were predominant in their sweep to power followed Salafism, a hard-line strain of Islam widely associated with extremism and terrorism. Thus the UIC became another target under the War on Terror. But perhaps with Somalia's history of inter-clan violence an extreme faith in the country's religion is needed to supersede the tribal traditions of warlord rule.


The current violence is a good example of this. On the surface it is a UIC insurgency waging the holy war they promised against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG)and their Ethiopian backers. In reality it is more complex. The latest fighting has been sparked by a government and Ethiopian push to disarm Somalia ahead of unification talks. Given Somalia's history of tribal violence and being ruled by the gun it is surely foolish for the government to expect the tribes to give up their arms before any unification agreements have been reached. This has made the insurgency more popular than it neccesarily would have been. The UIC is no doubt taking a big part in the violence against the government but perhaps an equal part is other clans fighting to hold on to their guns.


The TFG's leader and Somalia's president Abdullahi Yusuf is a member of the Darod clan. The other clans believe he is favouring the Darod economically and politically. The TFG is made up of many warlords from other tribes. As no unification agreements have been reached and the clansmen's loyalty is still with their clan before the TFG, there is division within the government. The saying goes: divide and conquer. The TFG's division would therefore explain why the relatively unified UIC took control of Somalia so easily.


It is a farce to expect rival warlords and clansmen cobbled together in Kenya as the TFG to govern Somalia without any unification, after years of inter-clan violence. The UIC is of course made up of rival clans but they have their extremist belief in the Islamic faith in common, giving them a unity which they have proven capable of governance.


Somalia's Prime Minister is a member of Mogadishu's most prominent, Hawiye clan. The same clan that most of the UIC come from. Hopes were raised of an end to the recent violence when it was reported that elders of the Hawiye clan had met with TFG and Ethiopian leaders and agreed a truce, whereby forces from both sides would withdraw from the front lines. Even if both sides kept to their agreement it would not have stopped the violence from any of the other clans, sub-clans or Hawiye members fighting with the UIC and therefore not under the ceasefire.


The violence stopped for a short period before resuming for a third day of heavy clashes. Hawiye sub-clans and/or militias, not consulted by the elders before agreeing the ceasefire and with competing interests are reported to have been responsible for the restart of fighting. The latest violence has killed around 24 people and hundreds have been wounded.


1500 Ugandan People's Defence Force troops are in Somalia as the first deployment of a planned 8000 African Union force. It is unclear when troops pledged by Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi and Burundi will be deployed. At any rate Somalis have a history of anger against foreign forces on their soil, as they showed with protests at the outset of the Ethiopian invasion.


Their feelings toward the foreign intervention were displayed again in Mogadishu Mar 21., as an angry mob of militiamen and civilians, including women burned the bodies of uniformed soldiers and dragged their corpses through the streets in barbaric jubilation. The scenes echoed the bodies of U.S. soldiers dragged through the Mogadishu streets in 1993 after their Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in a failed attempt to capture a warlord. Although reports said the bodies were of two Ethiopian and two TFG soldiers, neither the Ethiopian military nor the TFG have confirmed their troops were involved. However the African Union has said its troops were not active in the area.


The violence is not limited to the capital, according to a Relief Web report: One car was destroyed and at least six people were injured March 18, when four cars transporting UN staff from Baidoa to Mogadishu overran a land mine near Afgoye checkpoint. It is not clear whether the explosion was targeted and no one was killed in the attack. The Mogadishu-Beletweyne road remains highly insecure due to sporadic ambushes. Several other roads remain unsafe, with a high number of roadblocks on the road from Lower and Middle Juba to Mogadishu.


In short, Somalia has returned to the lawlessness and violence it was suffering before the UIC uprising mid-2006. 


The U.N. and U.S. have praised the TFG's scheduling of reconciliation talks for April 19. However, many of the UIC players considered vital for a solution remain in exile in Yemen and Europe. The powerful Ayr sub-clan, thought responsible for much of the UIC's military strength are also claiming they have been excluded from participating in the government, which is dominated by rival clans. With so many clans and sub-clans, so many conflicting interests, a history of failed negotiations, broken agreements and such deep rooted hatred for the government, it is unlikely reconciliation talks called for by the government will succeed, and if they do it is doubtful the agreements will be kept.


The UIC have proven they can stabilize and govern Somalia. The insurgency's growing popularity among Somalis proves the Somali people didn't resent the UIC's strict rule as much as they do the current government. Instead of reconciliation talks there should be a vote of the Somali people. Call it a referendum or an election, call it what you like but give them their say. It is the Somali people who have to live under the rule of their government and it is the Somali people who should decide what that government is. Certainly not people enjoying the absolute freedom of a long successful democracy.


Given that the only security Somalis have enjoyed was under the UIC it is likely they would vote their way. In that vote they would also be achieving what outside attempts to create a central government had in the Transitional National Government and its successor the TFG, a movement encompassing more than one Somali clan. Where they succeed over the failed attempts is the clans they encompass have the power to pacify Somalia.


The Somali people have suffered long enough. Their suffering should not be prolonged because their security infringes on a war that has nothing to do with them.

Liam Bailey writes regularly for the Palestine Chronicle, Arabic Media Internet Network and is an advanced blogger on the Washington Post's Postglobal. He runs the War Pages blog and can be contacted by E-mail.


Liam Bailey's articles on Somalia


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