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Editorial: Occupation’s Hazards

  Sunday, November 11, 2007

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The Ethiopians in Somalia have discovered to their cost the same harsh reality confronting the Americans in Iraq: it is easy for a well-equipped and trained army to defeat in short order an inferior enemy. What follows, however, is frustration and humiliation as that enemy regroups and begins a guerrilla war against the occupying power.

Regular troops may be able to score isolated victories against insurgents but since the timing of attacks is generally of the insurgents’ choosing, it is hard, if not impossible, to strike a decisive blow against them. This feeds the frustration of occupying troops which then turns to anger when their own casualties are subjected to degrading treatment by the insurgents. The mutilation of the corpse of an Ethiopian soldier which was then dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by Union of Islamic Courts supporters was an all too successful provocation.

Ethiopian tank and mortar fire, allegedly aimed at insurgent positions, caused carnage among civilians, bringing to at least 60 the death toll since renewed violence gripped the city on Thursday. Both the Ethiopians along with the rudimentary Somalia government forces they support and the insurgents are accused of appalling behavior by Human Rights Watch which has called for all the perpetrators to be brought to justice. There is presently little chance of that happening. Somalia is returning to chaos and no one, least of all the country’s government, seems to know what to do about it.

The answer is nonetheless clear. The Ethiopians, like the Americans in Iraq, thought they came as liberators. In fact, they quickly became part of the problem they had allegedly come to solve. This is even truer in this particular case since Ethiopia originally said that its troops would leave in a fortnight. That promised departure long ago faded into the past and now the continued presence of Ethiopian soldiers on Somali soil causes offense to even moderate Somalis who would themselves have nothing to do with the Union of Islamic Courts. Given the historic rivalries between the two countries, Ethiopia’s continued military deployment in Somalia is a provocation rather than a way to peace. The response of its soldiers to the appalling treatment of the fallen in no way wins Somali hearts and minds. It ought instead to draw a line under Ethiopia’s intervention. Whatever Addis Ababa’s friends in Washington may think, now is surely the time to leave.

Some political leverage might be possible if Ethiopia’s withdrawal were tied to a peace conference at which all parties, the rival warlords and the Union of Islamic Courts were present. Past efforts to find agreements do not bode well for any deal, but in the final analysis, this conflict is a Somali affair. The country’s neighbors, including Ethiopia, have no legitimate role except supportiveness. Somalia must in the end succeed — or perhaps fail — on its own terms. Outside interference cannot help and indeed has been a major cause of the present chaotic conflict.

Source: Arab News, Nov 11, 2007

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