Somalia: Islamic courts union victory – a blow to the U.S.

On 5 June, the armed militia of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) routed the last remnants of the US-supported warlords and drove them out of Mogadishu and other southern cities. The warlords, who brought havoc and chaos to the capital of Somalia for years, feeling sufficiently threatened by February this year, formed an alliance. In a monumental blunder, they openly declared at the same time that in their fight against the ICU they had the backing of the US, alleging at the same time that the ICU was harbouring al-Qaeda sympathisers.

On the pretext that the ICU were protecting three al-Qaeda operatives who were allegedly involved in attacks on the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998 and an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa in 2002, the US decided to back the warlords and in February and March CIA planes delivered hundreds of thousands of dollars and military supplies through Isaley airstrip north of Mogadishu. At the initiative of the US, three warlords, armed with new weapons, united in the Alliance for Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism. The reaction of the Somalis to the delivery by the US of planeloads of money and weaponry was predictably devastating for the US, because the latter is hated in Somalia for its interference in Somali affairs, as were the warlords. Somalis have bitter memories of the US intervention in 1991 in which 18 American soldiers and at least one thousand Somalis were killed in a single night. If there is anything that unites the Somalis, it is their hatred of foreign meddling. Thus, in May as the news of US material and financial support for the warlords became public, thousands of young men with guns converged on the capital from all over Somalia to do battle with the warlords. After a few fierce fights, it was all over. In the words of the Independent of 21 June: “The warlords fled. At a stroke Washington had achieved the very opposite of what it intended and added an extraordinary and unintended bonus: peace in much of Somalia”. As a result, adds the Independent, today “…peace reigns on Mogadishu streets and the city has a single authority. This has been achieved by an even more unimaginable and unintended factor: American policy”.

The victory of the ICU is the best news Somalia has had for nearly 15 years. Although Somalia has one religion, one culture, one language and one ethnicity, it has been ravaged by foreign, especially US, interference and the internecine rivalry between clans and sub-clans, which has been used by the US – factors which have kept the country in a state of war for 15 years. It is reliably believed that Somali businessmen, no longer able to bear their goods being stolen at gunpoint, began funding the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu to bring some order into the chaos that characterised the capital. Although the media have concentrated on ICU’s chairman, Sheik Sharif Ahmed, it is believed that the real power behind the movement is Abukar Omar Adan, a businessman who controls Somalia’s busiest port, El Maan, just north of Mogadishu. Furthermore, it is believed that the Islamic Courts have no direct political ambition, however their support is crucial for putting in place a national government. Whatever the US accusations, Sheikh Ahmed, who is a member of a Sufi sect (Sufis have very liberal Islamic traditions), denies any intention of setting up an Islamic state and has condemned the desecration of the Christian cemetery in Mogadishu. There is no history or tradition of Wahabbi Islam in Somalia and until very recently Somali women hardly ever covered their heads or arms.

Faced with the victory of the ICU, and not liking it, the US, apart from an intensified propaganda barrage designed to paint the ICU leadership with an al-Qaeda brush, is intensifying its campaign against the ICU through the African Union (AU), Ethiopia and the so-called Transitional Government (TG). Established in 2004, the TG, plagued by internal divisions and with little influence, is headed by a notorious warlord, Abdullahis Yusuf, and has its seat in the central town of Baidoa – all perfect credentials for legitimacy in the eyes of ‘the international community’, i.e., a handful of imperialist countries, especially the US. This TG, exceptionally weak and representing no one, has called for a peace-keeping force to be deployed and is supposed to have encouraged an incursion into Somalia by 300 troops from neighbouring Ethiopia. This would not be surprising in view of the fact that after a meeting in the Ethiopian capital Adis Ababa, which was attended by UN, EU, British, Swedish and Italian diplomats, as well as by members of the AU executive body and the seven-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which heads ‘peace’ efforts on Somalia, the EU ambassador Timothy Clark had this to say: “There is a real sense of urgency that the situation could unravel very, very fast unless there is a muscular response”, including the despatch of a large force with a mandate to restore peace and stability in Somalia. This is perverse in the light of the fact that the victory of the ICU has, for the first time in 15 years, brought peace and stability and, as such, has been welcomed by the Somali people fed up with many long years of violence and exploitation at the hands of the warlords.

As he has little support inside Somalia, President Yusuf of the TG knows that he can only come to power with the help of outside forces. His chief ally in the region is none other than Ethiopia, whose troops are already reported to be crossing the border. He is also supported by the AU, which in a disturbing move on 19 June agreed to send a delegation to look into the possibility of sending ‘peace-keepers’ to Somalia. Any such foreign intervention will be a disaster for Somalia and, far from restoring peace and stability, would merely plunge Somalia into a fresh bout of bloodletting, from which it has just emerged thanks to the victory of the ICU. Ethiopia, the US and the EU have their own agendas, which run counter to the interests of the Somali people, and are only waiting for a pretext to intervene.

Quite correctly, the ICU fiercely opposes the introduction of foreign troops and, on 16 June, a large number of its supporters demonstrated in Mogadishu, chanting “we don’t need foreign troops”. The ICU is making rapid military gains. On 19 June, they took Baladwayne, 20 miles from the Ethiopian border. In a threatening move, the Ethiopian regime has moved troops to the frontier backed up by armour and Hind helicopter gunships. It is not lost on the Somalis that the Ethiopian invasion of the 1990s began with attacks precisely by such gunships.

The ICU fully realises the danger of foreign intervention, to avert which it held talks on 22 June in the Sudanese capital Khartoum with a TG delegation headed by the titular president Yusuf. “We have come to the negotiations to find a solution to Somalia’s problems with assistance from our Arab brothers”, the head of the ICU delegation, Ali Mohammed Ibrahim, told reporters. In their agreement, both sides promised to stop all military and propaganda campaigns and to recognise each other – recognising the “reality” of the ICU and the “legality” of the TG. They are due to meet again on 15 July.

It is unlikely that the US and the EU will reconcile themselves to such a solution. They will do everything to intervene directly or indirectly, play the TG against ICU, instigate divisions and fighting between the alleged moderate wing in the ICU against the ‘extremist’ elements. For their part the ICU are busy forming an administration in Mogadishu and strengthening their grip on other parts of the country. Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys has been named the head of the Council of Islamic Courts, an 88-strong body to be responsible for security and administration in Mogadishu, while the ICU chairman, Sheik Sharif Ahmed, was appointed the head of an executive committee.

These are crucial days for the Somali people, who will have to struggle hard to put their own house in order without foreign intervention. We have a duty to demand that all foreign powers keep their snout out of Somalia.

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