On October 1, two Somali Islamist groups, which had been close allies in the effort to topple the U.N.-backed Somali transitional government in Mogadishu, turned their guns on each other in the port city of Kismayo. Days of heavy fighting killed an unknown number of fighters and civilians.
Back to clan warfare
U.S.-based Somalia analyst Michael Weinstein says, on the surface, the dispute between Hizbul Islam and al-Shabab appears to be a straight-forward rivalry between the two Islamist groups, fighting for power in one of the most prized cities in Somalia. Taxes collected at the Kismayo port are a crucial source of revenue for both sides.
But Weinstein says he believes long-running clan rivalries, not religious rivalry, was the root cause of the conflict between the two Islamist groups. "What I think is going on is a volatile realignment toward clan-based Islamist warlordism. I do not think it is between religious movements," he said.
Warlordism in historical perspective
Somali history shows that controlling Kismayo has been the goal of various clans that have historical claims to the city and its surrounding regions. But for much of the past decade, that power was in the hands of Barre Hirale, a factional leader of the Marehan, a sub-clan of one of the largest clans in Somalia, the Darod. In 2006, Hirale and most of his Marehan militia were chased out of Kismayo by the Islamic Courts Union. With the support of neighboring Ethiopia, Hirale re-took Kismayo from the Islamists in 2007, only to be chased out again in August 2008 by Hizbul Islam and al-Shabab.