The Islamic courts in Mogadishu are clan-based and represent differing aims. The faction led by Sheihk Aweys is openly working towards establishment of an Islamic state. Yet the radical Islamists are poorly educated and may not be qualified to administer Sharia. In 2002, the previous attempt at forming a government (the Islamist-oriented TNG) required all Sharia judges to take an exam or resign. Sheikh Aweys was one of those who refused
There is an unfolding political crisis in southern Somalia. Over the past two years, a collection of local clan-based courts in Mogadishu have evolved to become the most powerful military force in southern Somalia. The courts, known collectively as the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), have expelled militia warlords from Mogadishu and brought a level of peace and security.
However, radical Islamists tied to al-Qaeda and al-Ittihad al-Islami have assumed central roles within the UIC, creating a significant threat to regional security. The UIC has also taken an intransigent stance versus the UN-recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG), threatening to undo the two-year negotiation process that had reached consensus on re-establishing the Somali state.
...hopes have been dashed by the rapid consolidation of power on the part of hardline elements within the [UIC]. Led by Hassan Dahir Aweys, the hardliners control most of the sharia militias, the flow of weapons arriving via Eritrea, and funds pouring in from both non-state and state sponsors of the [UIC], including Iran. This virtual monopoly on coercive and financial assets has allowed the hardliners to outmaneuver moderates and dictate policies. - Somalia, Spiraling Toward War, K. Menkhaus, CSIS Africa Policy Forum, Sep 14, 2006
The resurrection of al-Ittihad in a new form, its links with al-Qaeda, its threat to Puntland and Somaliland, and its public declarations of hostility towards Ethiopia present a significant security threat to Ethiopia and to the international community.
Ethiopia has three basic alternatives for dealing with the crisis:
1. Full-scale intervention to defeat the radical Islamists; Ethiopian troops try to enter Mogadishu and help the TFG establish itself there.
2. Limited intervention to stabilize the situation and isolate the radical Islamists, followed by negotiations to include moderate Islamists in the Transitional Federal Government. UN-sanctioned peacekeepers could then be brought in. Ethiopian troops would not try to enter Mogadishu.
3. Negotiation only; No intervention: Unilateral withdrawal of existing Ethiopian forces; imposition of a tighter arms embargo, and diplomatic initiatives to promote negotiation between the TFG and the UIC. If negotiations fail to resolve the crisis, Ethiopia could follow a containment policy and (a) wait for the the UIC to implode due to internal clan, economic, and religious divisions, or (b) defend itself within Ethiopia against an expected radical Islamist jihad to recover "western Somalia" and against additional foreign-sponsored subversive activities
The first alternative would be a disaster and must be avoided. The last alternative, (negotiation and defensive containment along the Ethio-Somali border) would be reasonable under normal circumstances when dealing with a sovereign state. But giving the radical Islamists and their foreign allies a free hand in stateless Somalia is an abdication of responsibility. The end result could be far more costly to Ethiopia (and Somalia) in the long run.
But this is the alternative recommended by the experts of the International Crisis Group (ICG), and many, (if not most) knowledgeable western observers. In its August 2006 report the ICG explains its opposition to Ethiopian intervention and its belief that this will fracture the TFG and help the radical Islamists gain popular support:
"The single most important foreign actor in Somali affairs, Ethiopia, is the TFG's patron and principal advocate in the international community. It has legitimate security interests in Somalia and has in the past intervened constructively to support reconciliation and state-building, notably in Somaliland and Puntland. But its current engagement has been deeply divisive and has undermined its own security objectives."
- "Rather than bolstering the TFG's fortunes, intervention seems bound to produce exactly the opposite result by undermining the TFG's pretence that it represents the will of the Somali people" - Can the Somali Crisis be Contained? ICG, Aug 10, 2006
But the ICG's recommendation for negotiation without intervention has no chance of success. As long as radicals such as former al-Ittihad leaders Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and Hassan Turki exercise effective control over the UIC, they will never agree to negotiations with the TFG. Their openly declared goal is the establishment of an Islamic state across the Horn of Africa. Their association with al-Qaeda means that they will never disarm.
The recommendation of western experts such as the ICG seems to take into account the remoteness of Somalia and its limited utility for launching attacks against Westerners. Only a relatively small number of western tourists are at risk, and few western economic interests are at stake. Were Somalia located on the border of the United States or any of the European countries, the same experts would not hesitate to recommend decisive intervention. But Ethiopia does share a long border and history with Somalia, and its vital interests are at stake.
Hassan Turki and Sheikh Aweys are wanted by the international community for assisting terrorist attacks in East Africa that have killed over 300 people, including citizens of Kenya, Tanzania, Israel, the U.K, Italy, and the United States. Sheikh Aweys is believed to be protecting al-Qaeda terrorists, including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the mastermind of the the East Africa embassy bombings, and several other terrorists that were indicted back in May 2000 for their role in the attacks (see State Dept. announcement: U.S. Indicts Suspects in East Africa Embassy Bombings for list of names). One of the indicted terrorists, Suleiman Ahmed Salim Swedan, was captured in Mogadishu in March 2003 and transferred to the United States (ICG, July 2005).
A Jordanian member of al-Qaeda, Sadiq Odeh was arrested in Pakistan in 1998 and discovered to be involved in the East Africa bombings:
According to U.S. intelligence sources, al-Qaeda's residual linkages with Somalia reflected the involvement of al-Ittihad cells led by Aweys and Hassan Turki in the preparations. Odeh told American investigators that just over one month before the attack, Aweys despatched a message to bin Laden requesting meeting in Afghanistan. Aweys was designated as an individual with links to terrorism by the U.S. government in November 2001; Turki was added in 2004 and has been formally indicted for the murder of an American citizen. -Designation of Al-Shabaab U.S. Department of State Somalia : Eliminating the Terrorist Threat
What is happening in the various regions of Somalia?
Somaliland: Somaliland is determined to remain aloof.. The TFG is designed as a federation, and, unlike the UIC, does not have the will or military power to threaten the existence of Somaliland.
Puntland: Puntland, just south of Somaliland, has established a peaceful, democratic regional state that aims for autonomy within a united Somalia. TFG president Col. Abdullahi Yusuf is from Puntland. On June 19 1992, he and all the top clan leaders of the region were captured and imprisoned by al-Ittihad while they were having a conference in Garowe, the capital of Puntland. Al-Ittihad had launched a sudden uprising, capturing strategic towns in the region including the port of Bossaso, and declaring the creation of an Islamic emirate. Al-Ittihad's military force was commanded by Sheikh (Colonel) Aweys.
By June 26 however, Puntland's local clan militias had mobilized to defeat Al-Ittihad, killing over 600 al-Ittihad militia and expelling them from the region. Subsequently, the state of Puntland was formally declared in 1998 after a regional conference, and Puntland has made good strides in establishing stable administration and economic growth. A portion of the port revenue from Bosasso is being used to fund the TFG.
Given their experience with al-Ittihad and Sheikh Aweys, it is highly unlikely that the people of Puntland (who are from the Harti clans of the Darod) will welcome the expansion of the Hawiye-based UIC. The UIC has now sent militia to the southern border of Puntland, creating a tense situation in the divided town of Galkayo.
Together, Puntland and Somaliland account for at least a third of Somalia's population.
Hawiye Regions: Galgudud, Hiraan, north Shabelle, and Benadir: The Hawiye-inhabitated territory south of Puntland and extending to Mogadishu is the home region of the Habr Gidir clan and Sheikh Aweys. The Hawiye are about 25% of Somalia's population. But there is a deep split in the Hawiye between the Habr Gidir and the Abgal. The Hawiye, led by General Farah Aideed, evicted Siad Barre from Mogadishu in January 1991, but once Siad Barre was gone, tension developed between the local Abgal clan (led by Ali Mahdi) and General Aideed's Habr Gidir newcomers (who came from central Somalia). Conflict between these two clans resulted in 14,000 deaths and the destruction of Mogadishu in 1992 (HRW 1995). The top leaders of the UIC, Sheikh Aweys, warlord Indahadde, and Afghanistan-trained militia leader Hashi Ayro, are all from the Habr Gedir. In fact all are from the Ayr subclan of the Habr Gedir. The UIC's ability to balance the interests of the various Hawiye clans and subclans will determine the reaction of the people to the TFG and Ethiopian intervention. The TFG prime minister, Ali Mohamed Geedi, is a civil society activist from the Abgal clan of the Hawiye but may not have strong support within his clan.
The Islamic courts in Mogadishu are clan-based and represent differing aims. The faction led by Sheihk Aweys is openly working towards establishment of an Islamic state. Yet the radical Islamists are poorly educated and may not be qualified to administer Sharia. In 2002, the previous attempt at forming a government (the Islamist-oriented TNG) required all Sharia judges to take an exam or resign. Sheikh Aweys was one of those who refused (Stateless Justice in Somalia - Formal and Informal Rule of Law Initiates, Andre LeSage, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, July 2005).
According to the LeSage report (2005), there are four different systems of law in Somalia, (traditional clan law (xeer), formal state law, sharia, and civil society/private sector initiatives), and these need to be harmonized. Civil society organizations in Puntland and Somaliland have already started the difficult process of unifying these legal systems. But the UIC will destroy this progress. There are over 150 law students in Mogadishu universities (Mogadishu has at least three universities) who will have no place in the legal system of the UIC.
Many of the Islamists seem willing to negotiate with the TFG
More moderate members of the Joint Courts are expecting to negotiate with the new government to provide security services in exchange for appointments to control the judiciary branch. Further, not even all of Somalia's Islamic movements support the courts. In particular, they are rejected by the reformist Al Islah group.78 According to its Secretary General, Dr Ibrahim Dusuqi, Al Islah objects to the current practice of the courts and is not a member of the Joint Courts administration. Their rejection stems from the courts' reliance on the personal judgments of poorly educated sheikhs. By contrast, Dr Dusuqi states that Al Islah would promote a simlar fiqh or 'jurisprudence' as has been adopted in Kuwait. - Stateless Justice in Somalia - Formal and Informal Rule of Law Initiates, Andre LeSage, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, July 2005
Rahanwein Regions: Bay, Bakool: The agropastoralist Rahanwein (Digil and Mirifle clans) are about 20% of Somalia's population. Their descent line (Sab) is separate from that of the other Somali's (Samaale) and they speak a separate dialect, Maay, that is considered a separate language. They suffer discrimination as a result of their separate language, separate descent, and agricultural orientation.
The Rahanwein are the least powerful of the four major clan families in Somalia, and were the last to establish their own militia and control their own territories. The Baidoa famine in 1992 was a by-product of the Darod-Hawiye conflict which ranged across Rahanwein territories. When the UN arrived they were able to establish local administration, but General Aideed (Hawiye_Habr Gidir clan) captured their territory as soon as the UN left in 1995. The Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA) was set up in September 1995 and finally managed to liberate Baidoa on June 6, 1999. Ethiopia has been the main backer of the RRA. There has been some progress towards establishing an autonomous Bay-Bakool administration. Without Ethiopian intervention, Baidoa will likely be captured by Hawiye militia operating under the UIC banner.
Darod/Mixed Region: Lower Shabelle, Gedo, and lower Jubba Valley (to Kenya Border) : The Marehan clan of Siad Barre is from this area along with some Ogadeni and other Darod clans, as well as the Rahanwein. Kismayo is a mixed city hosting immigrants from all of Somalia. In addition the Bantu (Jareer) minority, who constitute about 6% of Somalia's population, live in the Jubba and Shabelle valleys and are heavily victimized. "Most of the Bantu living in contemporary southern Somalia are descendants of Bantu who were enslaved by the Sultanate of Zanzibar in the eighteenth century (Cassanelli 1982). Their ancestral tribes came from present-day southern Tanzania, northern Mozambique, Zambia, and Malawi. They were shipped along the East African coast to serve as labourers in the agricultural sector, mainly on plantation farms" (Webersik, 2004).
Because of its mixed population, (and rich agricultural resouces) the river valleys of southern Somalia have been the scene of extended conflict. The Hawiye Habr Gidir clan (and in particular, the Ayr subclan of Sheikh Aweys that is the power behind the UIC), is deeply involved in the rapacious exploitation of the region:
Strong clans have occupied valuable urban and agricultural real estate by force. The patterns of clan settlements have changed mainly in the urban and arable areas such as the lower Shabelle, Juba Valley, and Mogadishu. These areas have undergone substantial changes due to heavy infusions of non-resident clans supported by their militias. These stronger marauding clans have grabbed rich plantations and real estate owned by agricultural clans and indigenous groups, often leading to their displacement, or worse still, their enslavement. - Conflict in Somalia: Drivers and Dynamics World Bank, Jan, 2005
- Another source used almost the same terms to describe the situation of farmers of the Hawadle and Rahanweyne communities who were displaced from lower Shebelle and other areas by the Habr Gedir, but allowed to return as laborers. "They now work the land they used to own."
- Interviewees from many non-Habr Gedir groups described the domination of some areas by Habr Gedir forces as an "occupation." Sometimes whole populations were forcibly expelled; in other cases, farmers and plantation workers are allowed to remain if they agree to work for Habr Gedir traders or businesses.
- A leader of the Digil-Mirifle (Rahanweyne) people of lower Shebelle, now in hiding, described the situation of his community since the Habr Gedir militia seized control as one of virtual servitude. " The Digil-Mirifle used to own farms; taken by the Habr Gedir, now they work on their own farms. We are slaves who have been conquered."
-Somalia: Facing the Future; Human Rights in a Fragmented Society Human Rights Watch, April, 1995
The expansion of Hawiye militas of the Habr Gedir clan into the Juba and lower Shabelle river valleys is unsustainable. Athough they are the most powerful force, they only have several thousand milita (now incorporated into the UIC). It is their control of revenue from agricultural production and trade, that allows them to maintain militia in the towns of the region. Empowerment of the local inhabitants through the federal arrangement envisaged by the TFG is certain to displace the Habr Gedir militia. However deep divisions and internal conflict within the Rahanwein and the Bantu populations means that they remain weak and open to manipulation by external militias.
It is likely, however, that they would welcome the prospect of getting ownership of their land back and regaining self-administration (similar to what they had when the UNOSOM district councils were established). Thus it seems likely that the TFG will be able to evict the UIC from Kismayo and the Juba and lower Shabelle valley's with only limited Ethiopian backing.
Some Darod clans (Marehan and Ogaden) allied with the TFG are also involved in exploiting the Bantu and Rahanwein, so unless the TFG fully asserts its principle of federalism and local self-administration, Ethiopian intervention will simply prolong the suffering of the indigenous people by substituting one exploiting clan for another.
The complex, multi-player competition for power in Somalia has, at one level, clarified into a two-player contest between the TFG and the UIC. Yet behind the scenes, local, regional, national, and global interests engage in bewildering layers of cross-cutting interaction, cynically manipulating each other as they try to advance their separate interests.
These complex entanglements discourage intervention by neutral peacekeepers, and led to the departure of the UN's first mission in Somalia (UNOSOM) in March 1995. The idea of Ethiopian intervention is thus unappealing, yet it is the best of the available alternatives. Without intervention to counterbalance the foreign support the radical Islamists are receiving, they will likely expand across Somalia and develop capacity to launch a large-scale campaign of war and terror against Ethiopia. The Ethiopian public should support limited intervention to stabilize the situation, isolate the Islamist radicals, and allow the introduction of UN peacekeepers.
Due to the incredible degree of factionalism and shifting alliances in Somalia, it is hard to gauge the potential reaction to Ethiopian intervention in Somalia, however, the reaction of the majority of the population is likely to be neutral or positive. Hassan Turki and Sheikh Aweys are wanted by the international community for assisting terrorist attacks in East Africa that have killed over 300 people, including citizens of Kenya, Tanzania, Israel, the U.K, Italy, and the United States. Sheikh Aweys is believed to be protecting al-Qaeda terrorists, including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the mastermind of the the East Africa embassy bombings, and several other terrorists that were indicted back in May 2000 for their role in the attacks (see State Dept. announcement: U.S. Indicts Suspects in East Africa Embassy Bombings for list of names). One of the indicted terrorists, Suleiman Ahmed Salim Swedan, was captured in Mogadishu in March 2003 and transferred to the United States (ICG, July 2005).
A Jordanian member of al-Qaeda, Sadiq Odeh was arrested in Pakistan in 1998 and discovered to be involved in the East Africa bombings:
According to U.S. intelligence sources, al-Qaeda's residual linkages with Somalia reflected the involvement of al-Ittihad cells led by Aweys and Hassan Turki in the preparations. Odeh told American investigators that just over one month before the attack, Aweys despatched a message to bin Laden requesting meeting in Afghanistan. Aweys was designated as an individual with links to terrorism by the U.S. government in November 2001; Turki was added in 2004 and has been formally indicted for the murder of an American citizen. - In formulating Ethiopia's alternatives, the desire of the Somali people must be given top consideration. If most Somalis are actively opposed to Ethiopian intervention then it won't succeed. The TFG will collapse and the UIC will be strengthened. This seems to be the calculation of Terrorist Hassan Dahir Aways. But he has badly misjudged the desires of the Somali people before. In the 1990s,TerroristHassan Dahir Aways led al-Ittihad from Doble (near Kenya) to Bosasso, to Las Korey (northeastern Somalia) and then to Luuq (southwest Somalia), attempting to establish an Islamic ministate. He was rebuffed each time by the local inhabitants (although in Luuq he temporarily succeeded before being dislodged by the Ethiopian army cooperating with the local clan militia).
A large part of southern Somalia is essentially under occupation by Hawiye militia who came from areas north of Mogadishu after the fall of Siad Barre in 1991. Within the Hawiye, it is the Habr Gedir of the late General Aideed, and in particular, the Ayr subclan of Terrorist Hassan Dahir Aways that has moved in and is forcibly exploiting the indigenous Bantu and Rahanweyn populations. The people in this area, (a rough triangle from Baidoa to Mogadishu to Kismayo), are likely to be at least neutral or positive towards the TFG. But Mogadishu and the Hawiye-inhabited areas to the north are likely to be hostile to the idea of Ethiopian intervention.
Great caution and oversight is needed to make sure that the intervention is limited and that Ethiopian troops stay out of areas where they are unwelcome by the local population. Most importantly, this must not turn into a renewal of large-scale Darod (Abdullahi Yusuf) vs Hawiye (Terrorist Hassan Dahir Aways) conflict, but should stay focused on promoting negotiations between the moderate Islamists and the TFG.