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US and its allies fight back as Islamic movement offers Somalia a chance of peace

M.A. Shaikh

The agreement reached on June 22 at Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, by Somalia's nominal transitional government and the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) – which is in control of the capital,Mogadishu, and most of southern Somalia – has been hailed as a first step towards the restoration of peace, tranquillity and unity to the violence-ridden "failed state". The negotiations leading to the agreement were hosted by the Arab League and Sudan, and were attended by a high-level government delegation led by president Abdullahi Yusuf himself, and by a less elevated delegation from the ICU.

According to Amr Musa, secretary general of the Arab League, who chaired the talks, the ICU agreed to recognise the interim government, while the latter in turn acknowledged the "reality and existence" of the former. Musa also said that the "two sides agreed to reach a compromise that preserves the unity and integrity of Somalia." The written agreement also shows that the two sides have promised to stop all military and propaganda campaigns and to recognise the "reality" of the ICU and the "legality" of the secular government.

Initially, the fact that the interim government had decided to send its president, prime minister and speaker of parliament to the talks, while the ICU's chairman, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (right), had resolved to stay away was raised. To remove any doubts about its commitment to the talks, the ICU stressed that it was very serious and despatched a ten-member team to participate. Moreover, at the end of the talks, Mohamed Ali Ibrahim, the leader of the ICU delegation, praised the agreement reached as a "first step for the development of Somalia."

But the real reason why Sheikh Sharif stayed away is that he and Abdullahi Yusuf are bitter enemies and cannot meet face to face. Before the establishment of the interim government and his nomination as president in 2004, Abdullahi was a warlord in control of the northwestern region he named Puntland and declared an autonomous region, though he stopped short of declaring its independence as leaders of Somaliland had done after the removal of Siyad Barre in 1991. As warlord he was – and still is – bitterly opposed to Islamic groups, and is in fact known to have destroyed one particular Islamic group. As a report in the Financial Times put it on June 23, the forces of the veteran warlord "crushed an Islamic movement in the 1990s and has close ties with Ethiopia."

Ethiopia can reasonably be described as the "Israel of the Horn of Africa" and enjoys the full and unwavering support of the US. It therefore goes without saying that it is opposed to the establishment of any Islamic government in Somalia, and to the restoration of a united Somalia. Ethiopia, which occupies huge Somali territories, knows that Islamic groups and governments in Somalia will back the Somali people in those territories in their demand to be allowed to exercise their right to self-determination under international law, and break away. Its fear of such a development has been reinforced by the recent success of Eritreans in forming their own separate entity. The US backsEthiopia's resolve just as it supports Israel's suppression of the right of the Palestinians to be free.

In fact, the US has been the real organiser of the negotiations at Khartoum, although the Arab League has claimed the credit for it. The US government, which has been keen to divide the ICU into ‘moderates' that it can control and ‘extremists' that must be denied any power and influence, has reckoned that bringing the ICU into the negotiations and into cooperation with the interim government will achieve its ambitions. Not surprisingly, Amr Musa, who was Egypt's foreign minister before becoming secretary general, and is still close to president Husni Mubarak (another client and ally of the US government) cooperated with the US to secure its aim.

The Sudanese president, Hassan al-Bashir, who is a known adversary of the US government, had no hand in persuading the ICU to reach an agreement with the interim government that not only would divide the movement but would put into power anti-Islamic former warlords, such as Abdullahi Yusuf. Bashir is also an ally of Eritrea and no friend of the Ethiopian government]. The interim government's friendly ties with Ethiopia must therefore have worried him a good deal. This explains his strong call on both sides of the negotiations to oppose any proposal to invite foreign peacekeeping forces into Somalia. It was ‘president' Abdullahi Yusuf who earlier called for such troops to be sent in by the ‘international community'. As many Somalis have studied in Sudan, and as the Sudanese and Somalis have always maintained good relations, president Bashir must have thought that he would be able to influence the outcome of the negotiations.

But the stage had already been set before the negotiations began in Khartoum. Several days earlier, the so-called Special Contact Group with Somalia held its own discussion of the same issues in New York. On June 15, delegates from the US, Italy, Norway, Britain, Sweden and Tanzania – which constitute the group's membership – met at the Norwegian mission in New York under the chairmanship of a US assistant secretary of state, who explained that the meeting was convened at the request of Washington. As explained, the aim was to coordinate the group's efforts and to support "federal transitional institutions" (the interim government) in Somalia to establish an effective government. Not surprisingly, the assistant secretary of state added that it was also Washington's policy to cooperate with both local and international groups to fight "terrorism" in the country; however, he refused to discuss whether the US backed the warlords expelled from Mogadishu and Johar by the ICU.

The effectiveness of the US-led contact group's role became evident when the Khartoum negotiations secured the ICU's agreement to recognise the legality of the transitional government and to seek a power-sharing arrangement with it. In fact, the interim government is powerless and has no influence in Somalia, confined as it is to the city of Baidoa, while the ICU has far wider territorial control. Clearly, then, president Abdullahi Yusuf's nominal government is the principal gainer and the ICU the main loser at the Khartoum conference. As a result the movement faces the prospect of being divided into ‘moderates' and ‘extremists', as the US desires.

But it will not be only the ICU that is divided. If the so-called moderates in the movement join the interim government while the ‘extremists' break away, Somalia will be even more divided and could face greater violence. The new government can only ‘rule' with the military assistance of foreign powers, and if, indeed, such assistance is given the resulting prospect is of even bloodier civil war. The peace brought by the ICU to the regions it controls, which are the only tranquil areas in Somalia, will vanish and the first possible basis for the restoration of law and order will be gone.

The declaration by Mohammed Ali Ibrahim (the ICU delegation's leader) that the result of the Khartoum negotiations "is the first step for the development of Somalia" is simply not true. Similarly, the praise showered on the result by the ‘international community', said to be alarmed by the "sudden rise of Islamists", as some Western commentators put it, and by secular Somalis, is misplaced. For example, professor Abdi Dahir, the secretary general of Civil Society in Action, a network of NGOs based in Mogadishu, described the Khartoum conference as a "very good meeting" and the decision by the interim government to send such a high-level delegation as "significant".

Clearly, anyone who wants there to be peace in Somalia – and there must be many such people – must admit that the US government and its allies have to stay out of the situation altogether. Washington, which has declared war on Islam under the pretext of fighting terrorism, can have no interest in restoring peace and unity in a Muslim country whose disintegration it helped to promote in the first place.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 5

Jumada' al-Akhirah 05, 14272006-07-01

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