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Somalia's Islamic Militia Says U.S. Government Officials Should Come To Mogadishu

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MOGADISHU, Somalia, November 23, 2006 – Somalia's Islamic militia on Thursday invited U.S. government leaders to visit the capital, Mogadishu, a city that has weighed on the minds of Americans since 18 U.S. troops were killed here in 1993.

The United States — which accuses the Council of Islamic Courts of having ties to al-Qaida — should see for itself that the city is under control, Ibrahim Hassan Adow, the Islamists' foreign affairs chief, told The Associated Press.

"We invite U.S. government officials to come Mogadishu and to see the realities on the ground," he said.

The group's strict interpretation of Islam raises memories of Afghanistan's Taliban, which was ousted by a U.S.-led campaign for harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida fighters. Still, many credit the courts with bringing order. This week, the group arrested more than 100 people for watching a movie and burned sacks of marijuana, saying they violated Islam.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a dictator and then turned on each other. The current administration was formed with the help of the U.N. two years ago, but has failed to assert any real power outside its base in the western city of Baidoa.

The Islamic Courts, meanwhile, have steadily gained ground since taking over Mogadishu in June and now control much of southern Somalia. On Wednesday, the United States said it will support deployment of a regional force into Somalia if it will help stabilize the situation. The force was proposed in September by the seven-nation Intergovernmental Development Authority, an East Africa grouping, and is now before the U.N. Security Council.

"We want to see an end to violence," U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said. "And we ultimately want to see a Somalia with a functioning government and civil order that serves the interests of the people."

The unrest in Somalia has prompted fears of a regional war drawing in Somalia's neighbors. Relations between Somalia's government and the Islamic group have been inflamed over the issue of neighboring Ethiopia, which supports the government.

On Thursday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said his country has completed its preparations for a potential attack by the militants. In a speech to parliament, Meles said his first priority was to avoid conflict with the Islamists, but "we can't simply close our eyes or look the other way."

The government "has completed this preparation," he added, without giving specifics.

Also Thursday, witnesses reported that tension was mounting in the central town of Bandiradley. The Islamic group was strengthening its positions amid fears of an attack by troops allied with the government, witnesses said.

AP writers Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu and Les Neuhaus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.

Source: The Associated Press

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