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After Islamists defeat, Somalia in catch

By Simon Roughneen for ISN Security Watch (08/01/07)

With an apparently facile victory achieved over the
Council of Somalia Islamic Courts, the
Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government faces
a more difficult challenge in establishing a
functioning government in Somalia.

After a blitzkrieg campaign launched Christmas Eve
involving an estimated 15,000 Ethiopian troops backed
by tanks, fighter jets and helicopter gunships, the
Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has established
itself in Mogadishu, after spending most of its
precarious and ineffective existence thus far in the
western town of Baidoa.

The quick defeat of the Islamists has averted fears of
a Somali vortex pulling the Horn of Africa into a
regional war. But in its place, a long-running
guerrilla campaign and renewed insecurity are likely.
Princeton Lyman, Africa Program Director at the
Council on Foreign Relations, told ISN Security Watch,
“I expect a good deal of instability and warlord-type
of activity for awhile at least.”

Ethiopian and TFG troops much assert control rapidly,
before Islamists regroup or are rearmed by the Hawiye,
as a means of curbing renewed warlord chaos. The
Ethiopian presence may radicalize a greater proportion
of Somali Muslims. The early signs are not propitious
with recent fighting in Mogadishu between unidentified
gunmen and Ethiopian soldiers. A TFG deadline for
weapons to be handed in was ignored by secular
warlords and Islamists. And while the latter suffered
a comprehensive defeat in the face of one of Africa’s
largest standing armies, 3000 CSIC fighters have
reportedly melted into Mogadishu's civilian
population. With warlords reasserting their presence
across the city through the use of roadblocks and
renewed extortion and intimidation of the civilian
population, the Somali capital is a tinderbox.

Throughout early 2006, the CSIC conducted a 6-month
campaign to assert control over Mogadishu’s hitherto
rampant warlords, who had carved Mogadishu into
fiefdoms resulting in a state of violent anarchy. The
Islamists then sought to bring all of Somalia under
its control, leading the country on a collision course
with the TFG and the Ethiopians. Peace talks between
the two sides were held in Khartoum, but were breached
by the Islamist advance and the Ethiopian presence at

Stephen Morrison, Africa Program Director at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies in
Washington, DC, told ISN Security Watch that the
Ethiopians and the International Somali Contact Group
have a “brief window to press the TFG to enlarge its
support and credibility by co-opting moderate Islamist
elements and others.” Hardliners in the CSIC have been
defeated, for now, and the CSIC was as much a
business-sponsored and clan-based entity as it was a
religious-ideological one.

However, the TFG must rein in its own warlord allies
and persuade them not to carve up Mogadishu and the
rest of Somalia into fiefdoms. The TFG must prioritize
the powerful Hawiye clan of which President Abdullahi
Yusuf is a member. The Hawiye provided the backbone of
the CSIC, but are not ideologically-committed to an
Islamist state in Somalia, and may be persuaded to
consent to TFG rule if co-opted into government. The
CSIC set a mid-December deadline for the Ethiopian
troops to withdraw, but when it became apparent that
the stability brought about by the CSIC was to be
jeopardized by the Ethiopian desire to fight, the
Hawiye curtailed the CSIC weapons supply.

But while the Ethiopians remain in the country in
large numbers, it is difficult to envisage the TFG
acquiring the legitimacy needed to govern or to
persuade even its own warlords to disarm at the behest
of a foreign power. UN Security Council Resolution
1725, passed 6 December, may have been a trigger for
conflict, given that the CSIC regarded the proposed
African Union (AU) peacekeeping force as a US proxy
occupation, but the politics and logistics of peace
enforcement mean that the Ethiopians must withdraw
soon – within weeks according to Prime Minister Meles
Zenawi – but some effective armed force must be
present to attempt to disarm secular warlords and
allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians and ensure
that Islamists do not revive.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has agreed to send a
1000-strong detachment of peacekeepers as part of the
proposed AU force, and Nigeria has made positive
noises on deployment without any official commitment.
However, the AU force must be deployed quickly to
enable the Ethiopians to leave. Given the ineffective
AU presence in Darfur, it remains unclear how a
similar deployment could work in an even more volatile
context in urban Mogadishu. The Center for Strategic
and International Studies' Morrison said that a UN
force was necessary. It may be seen by Somalis as less
partial than a force comprised of Ethiopian allies
such as Uganda.

While fears of guerrilla attacks persist, the CSIC's
combination of battlefield bravado and military
naivety meant they suffered heavy losses after
engaging one of Africa’s biggest armies in pitched
battles. According to Lyman, “It is too early to be
certain about the capacity of the Islamists to launch
a guerrilla war or to carry out terrorist attacks.
They lost many in the fighting and some of their
adherents gave up and went home. "Others, however,
have escaped to the hills and probably to Kenya. My
guess is that they will seek to take advantage of
anti-Ethiopian feeling to build up cadres to carry out
such attacks. Thus, how long Ethiopian troops remain
in Somalia will be a factor,” he told ISN Security

Al-Qaida second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri released
a statement calling on the CSIC to resist the TFG and
the Ethiopians, and an Islamist youth-party militant
section, the Shabaab, has stated that it would
maintain resistance. Despite a UN report outlining a
steady flow of foreign arms to the CSIC, they appeared
poorly-equipped when fighting the Ethiopians, and
there has been little evidence that foreign jihadists
took to the field alongside the Somali Islamists.

Kenya, and to a greater extent Ethiopia, have ethnic
Somali populations. Kenya’s closing of its border has
entrapped hundreds of Islamists in a marshy region in
southern Somalia, where TFG and Ethiopian troops are
closing in. Ethiopia intervened in Somalia in the
1990s, destroying the al-Ittihad Islamists there.
Somali dissidents in the Oromo region have launched
sporadic attacks on Ethiopian troops in recent years,
while still-unexplained car bombs occurred in Addis
Ababa last year.

Ethiopia sought to destroy the CSIC as it made
irredentist claims on ethnic Somali regions of
Ethiopia and had US backing in ending the short reign
of an organization that sheltered three suspects in
the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and
Dar-es-Salaam. It is unclear whether many Eritrean
casualties were incurred. Asmara’s secular regime
provided training and arms to the Islamists in an
attempt to open a proxy second front in its unresolved
conflict with Ethiopia, which remains frozen since a
disputed 2000 peace agreement.

Financial assistance as part of a sustained political
engagement with Somalia is crucial to the TFGs
prospects. During the formation of the TFG, the US
donated just US$250,000 to maintaining that political
process. However the US funded some of the secular
Mogadishu warlords, who lost out to the Islamists in
early 2006. Ironically, these are some of the same
warlords which fought US troops in the early 1990s and
have thrived amid Somalian anarchy ever since. The US
has just announced over US$30 million in funding for
the TFG, perhaps suggesting a more consistent and
less-opaque policy toward the country.

Somalia will likely remain mired in factional
fighting. Stability means having the capacity to
control warlords - as the CSIC did during 2006 - and
co-opt pragmatists in the CSIC. However, the unpopular
Ethiopian garrisons are the chief source of the TFGs
military capacity. Without quickly replacing Ethiopian
troops with a multinational force, in tandem with
providing the TFG with resources to build its own
capacity, Yusuf will not bring about a restoration of
effective sovereignty in Somalia, while the region’s
western-allied nations may now be vulnerable to random
terrorist attacks.

Simon Roughneen is a senior analyst and correspondent
for ISN Security Watch and worked in Africa in 2003
and 2006.

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