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Will Bush "War On Terrorism" Target Somalia? (2002)

With most of Mogadishu under the control of the Islamic courts, the residents of Somalia's capitol were cautiously optimistic on Tuesday that the days when "warlords" held sway over the strife-torn Horn of Africa country were, at last, coming to an end.

One such warlord, Mohammed Qanyare Afrah -- a key member of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, which was ousted from Mogadishu on Sunday -- declined to discuss the alliance's loss of the Somali capital when reached via telephone.

Qanyare was said to be in the town of Jowhar, 90km north of Mogadishu. He was one of four powerful Mogadishu-based faction leaders serving as ministers in Somalia's transitional government who was sacked on Sunday by Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi. The sackings came as alliance forces were being beaten back from Mogadishu.

Militias loyal to the Islamic courts have been fighting against the secular faction leaders since February. More than 300 people are believed to have died in the violence, some 1,500 others have been wounded and many thousands displaced.

The end of the fighting has brought respite to Mogadishu residents. "Everybody is happy. If the business community, the Islamic courts and the civil society come to a consensus on how to restore and maintain law and order, then there will be no return to warlordism," said Abdulahi Shirwa, the head the Somali Peace Line, a local advocacy group. Shirwa cautioned, however, that "security in Mogadishu is still fragile. If the the Islamic leaders go around claiming that they are the victorious group, then we could see the return of the warlords."

Baldo, however, said the development did not necessarily mark the end of warlordism, partly because some of the Islamic court leaders have their own agendas. "Even the [faction leaders] who have been defeated still have forces and command clan loyalty," he said. "Therefore, it is not excluded that they may try to organize a comeback. Only when we have a broad-based effective government throughout Somalia [the end of warlordism] can happen."

The power of the Islamic Courts is not absolute in Mogadishu, however, with members of the Abgal sub-clan of the larger Hawiye group holding a rally in north Mogadishu on Tuesday, during which they declared that their community would not accept the authority of the courts. The protestors, numbering several hundred, chanted, "We will defend northern Mogadishu from any attack," and "We want our own Islamic courts," sources said. Defeated faction leaders Musa Sudi Yalahow and Bashir Raghe Shirar also insisted the anti-terrorism alliance was still strong.

The sources said hundreds of heavily armed militiamen allied to the Islamic courts had taken up defensive positions in the event that gunmen loyal to the faction leader who controls Jowhar, Mohamad Dheere, decided to launch a counter-attack on the capital. "Things appear to be taking a clannish dimension again," commented a member of a civil society organization, who requested anonymity for security reasons. "The Abgal are complaining that they have lost land [to the Islamic court supporters of the Habr Gedir clan]," he told IRIN by telephone from Mogadishu. "They want to establish their own Islamic court independent of the other courts," he added, warning that the court leaders could fail if they chose to resolve this through force.

Baldo, however, said this was unlikely. "Much will depend on how they will go about this, if they try. But they are a very heterogenous group and have so far said this is not what they want to do."

Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has called for talks with the Islamic court leaders to chart a way forward, but observers say this could prove difficult because President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed is perceived as having an anti-Islamist agenda. "The TFG had very little to say during the fighting," Baldo said. "It played safe and only congratulated the winner. By calling for talks, they have taken a wise decision, but it may be difficult to actually hold talks until both sides overcome mutual suspicion."

In the United States, a State Department spokesman told reporters, "We do not want to see Somalia turn into a safe haven for foreign terrorists." African Union chairman, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo, discussed the situation on Monday with President Bush. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged those concerned to resolve their differences through talks in accordance with the country's Transitional Federal Charter.

The Islamic courts are trying to promote Islamic law rather than clan allegiance, which has divided Somalis since the fall of the government of Siyad Barre 15 years ago, observers say.

"The courts moved quickly because they wanted to assert control before the alliance could consolidate itself," Baldo said. "They will probably want to consolidate authority outside Mogadishu, unless they talk with the TFG."

© IRIN   [Integrated Regional Information Networks is a project the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

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Albion Monitor   June 5, 2006   (

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