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How Bush created a regional war in Africa
11 November 2006
"It was totally the law of unintended consequences in the extreme." - John Prendergast
6,000-8,000 Ethiopians and 2,000 fully equipped Eritrean troops are inside Somalia prepared to face off in a violent regional conflict, the UN recently warned.
Making a mountain out of a molehill
Our story begins with two warlords from the Abgal sub-clan. One warlord is named Bashir Raghe. He was a waste contractor with the U.S. military forces in Mogadishu before the United States pulled out in 1994. After 9/11 he became one of America's top allies in Somalia. He was paid handsomely to capture alledged terrorist and turn them over to U.S. officials.
Raghe strode through Mogadishu wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses on his head and a pistol strapped to each hip. And in the months leading up to the fighting in Mogadishu, he was seen using crisp, new $100 bills to buy machine guns and heavily armed pickup trucks.
The rival warlord is named Abukar Omar Adan, a devoutly Islamic and heavily armed clan elder with ties to the Islamic Courts Union (now named Supreme Islamic Courts Council).
The trouble began late last year when Adan paid $30,000 for land that straddled the airport road, intending to build a development including homes and warehouses.
After a six hour battle Raghe's forces had killed seven of Adan's men and captured the land and four of his gun trucks. The U.S. officials, at the airstrip just three miles away, wrongly concluded that they were under attack by Islamic terrorists and abruptly fled. Adan had no idea the Americans were nearby, but soon learned of it.
But over the next several weeks, in numerous discussions in person and on the phone, U.S. officials accused Abukar and his family of being terrorists, he said. "They said, 'You were ready to kill us.' . . . They said, 'Your file will be put in Washington, and you will be recorded as a terrorist group.' "
The Bush Administration couldn't let a terrorist attack go by unanswered, and so began funding regional warlords, including Raghe. These were some of the exact same warlords that killed American soldiers in 1993. Anti-Americanism, stoked by the Iraq War, intensified in Mogadishu. Warlords had been raping, robbing and killing for over a decade, and now they were being funded by the Bush Administration. Public opinion swung in favor of the islamic courts, which were originally created as a judicial system by regional businessmen, but gradually became a local police force, and even provided services such as education and health care.
On February 18, Raghe and at least six other warlords created the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT). Four of the warlords were also part of the Somali Transitional Government. American support money flooded into this group, estimated at about $100,000 a month. However, the popular reaction was even more swift. Battles between homegrown Islamic militias and a hated U.S. proxy force started the very same day.
Only a few months ago, this would have been impossible for lack of public support, experts said.
A month later the forces of Adan and Raghe met again. This time Adan was backed by the islamic courts, and the ending was very different. Raghe's forces were routed despite the backing of American military aid. It was the start of the blowback against Bush's Somalia policy. On May 7th an outright war began between the U.S. backed warlords and the islamic courts, and by June 5th the warlords had been driven from Mogadishu. A few weeks later Raghe and another warlord fled to a waiting American warship. The fighting had cost about 350 lives. And as you might imagine, the Bush Administration, in its usual "sour grapes" moment, has ruled out any contact with the new leader of Somalia.
The UIC followed the fleeing warlords to the nearby towns of Jowhar and Hobyo and quickly captured them. Most of the warlords fighters were now being put to work for the UIC. As the summer and fall grew long, so did the territory that the UIC has occupied. It has also created security and added services that a whole generation of Somalis haven't experienced.
Things have never been so quiet, he says. Two weeks ago AK-47s sold for $550 as fresh fighting consumed the city. This week, he cannot move them for $350.
The islamists have also cracked down on the illicit drug trade, sale of endangered birds, and the indiscriminate logging of trees. You would think all of this would please everyone. You would be very mistaken.
Neocons do what is expected of them
Where did the Bush Administration get information that the UIC was harboring al-Qaeda terrorists? From the same warlords who called themselves the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) in order to get American taxpayer dollars from gullible neocons.
Power Politics, African Style
"If something is not done now, the conflict may take on a regional dimension" - United Nations envoy Francois Lonseny Fall
BBC African analyst Martin Plaut says the Ethiopian action puts the future of the transitional government in question.
That late-July warning was completely correct. Just two weeks later 40 ministers quit the transitional government.
"From today onwards, the government has been dissolved - only the prime minister will remain." - President Abdullahi Yusuf
A new cabinet was formed, but only after intervention of Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin as mediator between the two factions in the Somali government.
The past year has not been kind to the Ethiopian government. After fixed elections that allowed Mr. Zenawi to win a third term, the government began a crackdown on the opposition. In response, the US Congress passed a bill branding the government as undemocratic and an abuser of human rights. Additionally, international donors have stopped the flow of cash to the Ethiopian government, and have not been in contact with the regime for several months. The loss of aid has hurt, as Ethiopia is one of the most aid-dependent countries in the world.
Historically, Ethiopia and Somalia have fought wars and have tribal claims that extend beyond their borders. In 1977 Somalia invaded Ethiopia in the Ogaden War. Ethiopia repulsed the invasion with the help of the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile in the rest of Somalia...
Somalia is in reality three countries now. One of them is divided between the SICS and the puppet government that Ethiopia supports. The region directly to the north is called Puntland. It is an autonomous region that formed in 1998 and is directly supported by the government of Ethiopia, but isn't trying to become independent. The region was formed under Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who refused to step down when his term was up in 2001. This led to rebellions that continued until 2004, when he resigned to become President of Somalia in the transitional government. He recently survived an assassination attempt.
The Bush Administration, after hitting this hornet's nest with a stick, has run away and left the region in growing chaos. What can be done?