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''Somalia's Fluid Politics Move Toward Polarization''
7 July 2006 PINR
Somalia's fluid political situation underwent yet another shift during the weeks of June 26 and July 3, as the conflict spilled over into neighboring states and became regionalized, and Osama bin Laden weighed in with his take on the struggle between the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.), which controls most of the country's south, and the internationally-backed but weak Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) based in the town of Baidoa. Meanwhile, the I.C.C. consolidated its gains on the ground, Washington's intentions remained unclear -- even after a congressional hearing on its Somalia policy -- and regional and international organizations proved unable to respond to the conflict effectively.
In a fluid political situation, the actors -- allies and adversaries alike -- are uncertain about the intentions of the others and, therefore, are simultaneously wary of taking initiatives and tempted to take them. That confusion is compounded when -- as is the case for Somalia -- the actors are divided within themselves. As a result of the uneasy mix of anxiety and temptation, actors in a fluid political situation tend to be tentative, but will sometimes take bold initiatives to change the power balance when they sense a favorable opening, testing their power and sometimes triggering responses from others that set off more conflict. A fluid political situation crystallizes when the cycle of challenge and response ends with the dominance of one actor or an alliance of some of them over the others, which is far from imminent in Somalia.
The I.C.C. Consolidates
Having taken control of Somalia's official capital Mogadishu on June 6, after defeating their warlord rivals, and then sweeping through much of the country's south during the week of June 12, the I.C.C. moved to consolidate its gains as quickly as possible, setting up Shari'a courts and making deals on local administration with clan elders.
In an effort to stabilize its external relations, the I.C.C. signed a cease-fire agreement with the T.F.G. that was brokered by the Arab League (A.L.) on June 22 in Sudan's capital Khartoum. The deal included mutual recognition and commitments to begin negotiations on a reconciliation process in talks scheduled for July 15.
The Khartoum agreement was thrown into doubt on June 25, when the I.C.C. organized itself into a governing structure, shifting its internal balance of power between the moderate clerics led by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and the hard-line Islamists headed by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys in favor of the latter. In the new structure, Aweys took charge of the policymaking consultation committee and Ahmed was relegated to chairing the executive committee responsible for day-to-day administration, and was to be answerable to Aweys.
Prior to the rise of Aweys, who insists that Somalia be an Islamic state, the I.C.C. had seemed that it might be willing to accommodate to international pressures for "dialogue" with the T.F.G. That changed on June 26 when Aweys announced that any of the remnants of the warlords' militias that had refused to disarm would be treated with "an iron fist." Only two of the warlords who had leagued in the Washington-backed Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (A.R.P.C.T.) -- Abdi Qeybdid and Umar Finish -- remained in Mogadishu with some armed forces. They were not engaged in active conflict with the I.C.C., but stood in the way of its full control of the city.
On June 26, the I.C.C. made good on Aweys' threat and moved against Qeybdid, overrunning a checkpoint manned by his Habar Gidir clan, killing six militiamen and seizing their battle wagons. An I.C.C. spokesman explained that the attack was "part of our effort to make Somalia a peaceful place and Qeybdid must surrender his weapons to the courts." With Qeybdid at bay, Finish acquiesced to I.C.C. rule on July 1, agreeing to place Mogadishu's Madina District under court administration and surrendering the city's airport, which he had controlled, to the courts. On July 6, the I.C.C. was reported to be readying for an attack on Qeybdid's base.
The T.F.G. responded to the checkpoint attack by claiming that it constituted a "clear breach of the cease-fire." Ahmed shot back that the T.F.G. did not understand the agreement, arguing that the I.C.C. was free to govern Mogadishu under its terms.
Gaining momentum, the I.C.C. followed its success on the ground with the announcement by Ahmed that the I.C.C. was extending its control over all of Somalia and intended to unite it under Islamic law, including the breakaway mini-states -- Somaliland and Puntland -- in the country's north. T.F.G. Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Hurreh responded: "We will not accept any group that wants to undermine our government."
With the cease-fire agreement falling apart and further negotiations on a peace deal between the I.C.C. and T.F.G. in jeopardy, T.F.G. parliamentary speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan -- leader of a faction that seeks to conciliate with the I.C.C. -- said that "if both sides compromise, we can share what we have." Meanwhile, the I.C.C. further regularized and tightened its administration by announcing that it would begin to issue visas to control entry into Mogadishu.
On July 1 and 2, the T.F.G. held an emergency session on how to resist the I.C.C. At the same time, local media reported that secret talks were taking place between the T.F.G. and Ahmed in an effort to see whether the I.C.C.'s moderates could become negotiating partners and marginalize Aweys. On July 4, the T.F.G. announced that despite the I.C.C.'s checkpoint raid, it would continue to participate in the Khartoum peace process.
In light of its actions and pronouncements, the I.C.C. appears determined to seize the initiative and bypass the fledgling peace process. The T.F.G., which is isolated in Baidoa and has no reliable security forces of its own, is powerless to stop the I.C.C. and is totally reliant on external support. The I.C.C.'s strategy under Aweys' leadership, with Ahmed appearing to fall in line, seems to be to make maximum headway before significant outside support flows to the T.F.G., if not to eliminate its rival, then to secure the greatest bargaining advantage that it can get.
The Conflict Spills Over and Regionalizes
Barring a quick solution of the conflict between the I.C.C. and the T.F.G., which could only have been accomplished by the forthright pressure of great powers (the United States and the European Union), working in concert with international and regional organizations, it was a virtual certainty that Somalia's troubles would spill over into other states in the Horn of Africa. Fighting a proxy war in Somalia stemming from their longstanding and festering border dispute, Ethiopia and Eritrea had been supplying arms and funds to contending Somali factions, with Addis Ababa supporting the faction of T.F.G. President Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed and Asmara backing anti-T.F.G. warlords and later the Islamists. Both governments have consistently denied violating the 1991 United Nations arms embargo on Somalia, but the U.N.'s Somalia monitoring commission has reported that they have regularly breached it.
Addis Ababa is particularly concerned with the rise of the I.C.C. After a 1977 war with Somalia, Ethiopia retained the ethnic Somali Ogaden region and has since faced an insurgency there that was supported by Aweys' Islamist organization al-Ittihad al-Islami (A.I.A.I.), which Aweys claims no longer exists and Addis Ababa insists remains active. Fearing the rise of irredentist sentiment in Somalia and the spread of radical Islamism to its large Muslim population, Ethiopia is more anxious than any other external power to prevent a takeover of Somalia by the I.C.C. Eritrea, in contrast, welcomes the I.C.C., hoping for the emergence of an anti-Ethiopian regime in Somalia.
During the weekend of June 18 and 19, Ethiopian troops were reported to have crossed the border into Somalia to counter the advance of the I.C.C. and to shore up the T.F.G. The incursion, which was verified by independent media, sparked demands for withdrawal by the I.C.C., denials from Addis Ababa and a statement from the U.S. State Department that "incursions into Somalia are not a good idea," which muted the tensions momentarily.
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki nonetheless accused Washington of interfering in Somalia, using Addis Ababa as its proxy, and warned that Washington was employing a "wrong and dangerous tactic." In response, Washington was reported to have restricted Eritrean diplomats to a 40 kilometer (25 miles) radius around their U.S. embassy, and to have denied visas to Eritrean businessmen. Afwerki shot back that Washington was using the "war on terrorism" as a pretext to destabilize Somalia.
Tensions heated up again in the week of June 26, when larger numbers of Ethiopian troops were reported to have entered Somalia in southern and central border regions not yet under I.C.C. rule. By July 2, the Ethiopians were reported to be patrolling Baidoa in armored vehicles, establishing a presence that would be difficult for the I.C.C. to dislodge. On July 4, there were reports that Ethiopian forces were holding discussions with clan elders in areas that they had occupied, forging security agreements and organizing militias that would support the T.F.G.
On June 28, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi gave a briefing on Addis Ababa's Somalia policy, stating support for the T.F.G., in consonance with the "international community," while downplaying the call for "dialogue" between the I.C.C. and T.F.G. that the great powers and regional and international organizations have sounded. Zenawi expressed sympathy for the moderate elements of the I.C.C. that desire "peace and stability," but underlined Addis Ababa's opposition to factions tied to A.I.A.I. and to the "messenger boys" of Asmara. He accused A.I.A.I. of responsibility for a series of 2005 bombings in Addis Ababa and of supporting the insurgent Ogaden Liberation Front (O.L.F.). Zenawi warned the I.C.C. against crossing Ethiopia's border and insisted on Ethiopia's "right of self-defense." By July 1, Addis Ababa was vowing to protect Baidoa from I.C.C. attacks.
The I.C.C. responded to Addis Ababa's moves by echoing Asmara's line. Ahmed accused Addis Ababa of not wanting Somalia to "stand on its feet." Aweys said that the I.C.C. would be willing to hold talks with Addis Ababa on the Ogaden region -- a nonstarter for Ethiopia -- adding that the 1977 war "could not be forgotten" and accusing Ethiopia of "mistreating" ethnic Somalis in the Ogaden region. The I.C.C. mounted a large demonstration on June 30 in the town of Beledweyne near the Ethiopian border, in which protestors carried signs reading: "We Don't Want Ethiopia to Enter Somalia." On July 2, Ahmed called on Somalis to prepare to resist an Ethiopian invasion, repeating his assertion that Addis Ababa is the "enemy number one of the Somali people."
As tensions mounted between Ethiopia and the I.C.C., Eritrea continued its drumfire of anti-U.S. and anti-Ethiopian rhetoric in a series of official statements accusing Zenawi's government of being a "mercenary regime" administered by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and of carrying out Washington's policy of keeping Somalia fragmented so that it could realize its aim of imposing "neo-colonialism" over the Horn of Africa. According to Asmara, after the Washington-backed warlords were routed by the I.C.C., Washington "stepped up front" and pursued its "agenda" of hegemony over the Horn by masking itself as "a force that cares for the well-being of Somalia."
As PINR warned in 2005, Washington's strategy of fostering regional security cooperation in the Horn would be jeopardized if it backed Addis Ababa in delaying resolution of its border dispute with Asmara. Instability in Somalia has provided Asmara with the opportunity to vent its displeasure and, more importantly, to proceed with a strategy that would create an anti-U.S. and anti-Ethiopian alliance should the I.C.C. gain control over Somalia.
Al-Qaeda Checks In
The situation was further complicated and the conflict widened on July 2 when the Islamic revolutionary al-Qaeda network released an audio tape in which its leader Osama bin Laden denounced the T.F.G., calling Yusuf a "traitor and a renegade," and urging Somalis to support the I.C.C. Bin Laden threatened that al-Qaeda would mobilize its forces to fight against any soldiers engaged in a peacekeeping mission in Somalia, whom he declared would be agents of U.S. "crusaders."
The T.F.G. seized upon bin Laden's statement, attempting to gain Washington's favor by claiming that it confirmed the "presence of extremists in Somalia." Asserting that bin Laden "has no religious authority over the people of Somalia," T.F.G. Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi warned that al-Qaeda has "representation" in Somalia and is pursuing a strategy of "provoking the world to attack" the country. Hurreh added that the T.F.G. would not allow Somalia to become "another Afghanistan."
Careful to avoid any connection to al-Qaeda that would bring on Gedi's projected scenario, the I.C.C. was quick to distance itself from bin Laden. Ahmed said that bin Laden's statements were "personal comments," and Aweys declared that the I.C.C. has "no connection with him. No one has the right to dictate what we should do." Neither Ahmed nor Aweys repudiated al-Qaeda's moral support, saying that bin Laden was free to comment on the situation in Somalia, just as everyone else does.
Analysts do not believe that there are a significant number of al-Qaeda operatives in Somalia, although there is sentiment in favor of Islamic revolution in some circles of the I.C.C. and, on July 6, the Associated Press came into possession of an Islamist recruitment video that showed Arab and I.C.C. militiamen fighting side by side. Al-Qaeda's rhetorical support for the I.C.C. does not change the military equation in Somalia, but it does strengthen the hand of factions in Washington that take a hard line toward the I.C.C., putting an obstacle in the way of Washington's leadership of or even active participation in a reconciliation process.
Bin Laden's statements are of particular embarrassment to the I.C.C., which is seeking to mollify Washington, at least during its efforts to consolidate power. On June 28, Aweys said that the I.C.C. was ready for "partnership with the Americans" as long as they showed "respect," stopped "interfering in Somali affairs" and acknowledged the right of Somalis to be governed by Shari'a law. Stressing its commitment to keep "terrorists" out of Somalia, the I.C.C. repeated its invitation to allow an international mission to verify that its commitment was being met.
Washington and the "International Community" Remain Off-Balance
Having backed the warlords against the I.C.C., the latter's victory left Washington scrambling to reposition itself in a power balance that had changed to its disadvantage. Immediately after the I.C.C.'s sweep through Somalia's south, Washington formed a Contact Group (C.G.) composed of European allies and potential honest brokers, and Tanzania, in order to find a path toward a concerted diplomatic effort that would prevent an outright I.C.C. takeover of Somalia.
Washington's position combined support for the T.F.G. as the only legitimate framework for Somalia's stabilization with a call for the T.F.G. and I.C.C. to engage in "dialogue." Washington admitted that it was searching for a negotiating partner in the I.C.C. and was reported to be holding secret talks with its representatives. At the same time, there were suspicions that Washington had acquiesced in, if not encouraged, Addis Ababa's incursions into Somalia.
After the A.L. stepped in to fill the policy vacuum, Washington announced its support of the cease-fire agreement and the Khartoum peace process, stating that it intended to participate in the forthcoming talks as an observer. In response to the rise of Aweys and the formation of the I.C.C. governing structure, Washington said that it would not negotiate with Aweys, who is on its list of al-Qaeda supporters, but would "wait and see" whether the I.C.C. turned over al-Qaeda operatives whom Washington believes are being sheltered in Mogadishu, allowed access to international aid agencies and worked constructively with the T.F.G.
Washington's tentative response and clouded intentions were not sharpened and clarified when its policy came under scrutiny in the U.S. Congress on June 29 with the appearance of Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer before a joint session of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, chaired by Rep. Christopher Smith; and the House Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Non-Proliferation, chaired by Rep. Edward Royce.
At the hearing, Frazer reiterated the administration's wait-and-see policy, remarking that the situation in Somalia is "incredibly dynamic" and assuring that "we are constantly reviewing and updating our approach to reflect the fluid dynamics inside Somalia." Frazer, who had just returned from a round of diplomacy in Djibouti, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, defined Washington's present aim as encouraging as broad a reconciliation process as possible, including all "stakeholder groups" -- civil society leaders, business leaders and clan elders -- downplaying the centrality of the I.C.C.
Frazer's testimony was not greeted favorably either by Republicans or Democrats on the committees, reflecting the domestic pressures constraining the administration. Smith was forthright in his insistence that the I.C.C. is "not the answer" to stabilizing Somalia because it is dominated by jihadists and has irredentist designs on Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. Royce claimed that Somalia has become a "haven for terrorists." From the Democratic side, Rep. Donald Payne castigated the Bush administration for having supported the warlords. Questioned on the viability of the T.F.G., Frazer was forced to admit that even Baidoa is not fully under its control.
The domestic cross-pressures on Washington reflect its weakened position in Somalia, where Addis Ababa and the T.F.G. mirror the hard-line Republican congressmen, and all the other international and regional actors mirror the Democrats and urge "dialogue" with the I.C.C. At present, Washington is attempting to split the difference, which renders it ineffective and allows the I.C.C. to continue its consolidation on the ground and Addis Ababa to go on with its counter-measures.
Lacking coherent leadership from Washington, international and regional organizations have been sidelined, save for tentative moves.
On July 4, a United Nations security team visited Mogadishu and met with the I.C.C. to ascertain whether security guarantees could be put in place for aid workers. The visit redounded to the benefit of the I.C.C. when militiamen loyal to T.F.G. Assistant Minister for Ports Muhamed Jamma Furuh, who has controlled Mogadishu's port, confronted the I.C.C. Reports indicated that the confrontation led to mediation by clan elders who brokered a deal that gave control of the port to the I.C.C.
A summit meeting of the African Union (A.U.) on July 1 and 2 ended with a unanimously supported resolution following Washington's line of backing the T.F.G. and appealing for dialogue between the I.C.C. and T.F.G. The introduction of peacekeepers from Sudan and Uganda into Somalia, which the T.F.G. considers to be a necessity for its survival and the I.C.C. flatly opposes, has been rendered moot by the refusal of the U.N. Security Council to exempt A.U.-backed peacekeepers from its arms embargo. Nonetheless, the A.U. approved a "peace and stabilization" mission for Somalia that would begin to operate should peacekeepers be put in place.
On July 5 and 6, a team composed of representatives from the A.L., A.U., Italy and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (I.G.A.D.), which is composed of Somalia and its neighbors, visited Somalia on a fact-finding mission to explore the possibility of deploying peacekeepers, despite its distant prospect. The mission consulted with the T.F.G., which pressed for a rapid deployment, and the I.C.C., which issued a statement saying that "alien forces are both unnecessary and counterproductive." The I.C.C. rejected mediation by third parties and insisted on negotiating directly with the T.F.G. in the framework of the Khartoum process.
Although Frazer may have been trying to excuse Washington's confused response to the I.C.C.'s gains, the assessment of Somali's political situation as "incredibly dynamic" is accurate. During the weeks of June 26 and July 3, the country's "fluid dynamics" underwent another turn, as an emerging confrontation between the I.C.C. and Ethiopia loomed over the horizon. As the only actors willing to make initiatives and take risks, they are presently exerting the greatest control over the situation, creating facts on the ground that constrain efforts by other actors to promote reconciliation.
Neither the I.C.C.'s nor Addis Ababa's practical intentions are clear, although their goals are starkly at cross-purposes. Any precipitous move by one of them against the other holds the danger of renewed and broadened military conflict.
The T.F.G., the A.U., the A.L., I.G.A.D. and the U.N. are powerless to avert a confrontation. Discredited by its former support of the warlords, Washington has failed to provide leadership, allowing divisions within the T.F.G. and the regional organizations to neutralize their effectiveness. Increasingly dependent on Ethiopia, the T.F.G. will find it difficult to make the concessions necessary to satisfy the I.C.C. The rivalry between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the tentativeness of Kenya and Uganda, eviscerate the A.U. and I.G.A.D. The A.L.-sponsored peace process is the only game in town, but the increasing polarization on the ground renders its success problematic.
The drift toward polarization is likely to continue until violent conflict erupts, one of the current key players retreats, or a player emerges from the sidelines with a fresh initiative. Given the prevalence of mutual uncertainties and suspicions, recent events in Somalia point toward further destabilization.
Report Drafted By:
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
Source: The Power and Interest News Report (PINR)