Somalia: The Illusion of Control

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June 21, 2006: The military victory of the Islamic Courts is a victory for Sudan, which provided support for the Islamic Courts. But it's also a defeat for Ethiopia, which supported warlords who opposed the Islamic Courts. The UN doesn't really care, and has begun negotiations with the Islamic Courts over security for UN aid projects, and how much aid will be diverted to the Islamic Courts as bribes for protection. The UN is hoping that the Islamic Courts are more disciplined than the warlord militias. In the past, protection deals were made with warlords, and then some dissident faction would break it and plunder UN aid shipments, or steal UN equipment.

The U.S. has also begin negotiations with the Islamic Courts, on the basis of Islamic Courts promises that they did not shelter Islamic terrorists. This is only partially true. The Islamic Courts is a coalition of eleven major groups, and many more smaller one. Some of these groups are more Islamic than others, and some of them do, openly or covertly, support Islamic terrorism. But the majority of Islamic Courts people do not want to go to war with the United States, or with their own radical Islamic groups.

June 20, 2006: The Transitional Government is calling for military assistance in the form of African Union peacekeepers. These are unlikely to arrive. But the United States may intervene, if the Islamic Courts make a move on the independent Somali states of Somaliland and Puntland in the north. Moreover, the Islamic Courts do not control all of the central and southern Somalia. Clan leaders, some of who give lip service to the Islamic Courts, still control most of the area. The Islamic Courts have a force of several hundred gunmen who have shown they can move fast and fight hard. Most clan militias can do neither, so this small force gives the Islamic Courts a lot of power, but not a lot of control, in Somalia.

June 17, 2006: The relative security provided by the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu has brought back the international media. Islamic Courts propagandists promptly used that media access to accuse Ethiopia of invading Somalia. The border area is a touchy subject, because the province on the Ethiopian side, the Ogaden is largely populated by Somalis. Somalia believes the Ogaden belongs to Somalia, and a war was fought over possession in the late 1970s. The Somalis lost, but they haven't forgotten. To the tribes in the area, the border doesn't exist, and armed Somalis move back and forth at will. That bothers the Ethiopians only when Somali tribesmen raid into Ethiopia. Whenever that seems likely, the Ethiopians move some army units to the border. This usually persuades the rambunctious tribesmen to cool it. In this case, the Islamic Courts feared that the Ethiopians would send troops across the border to assist the pro-Ethiopian warlords that the Islamic Courts have been beating on. The Ethiopians denied this, and do not appear to have crossed the border. The pro-Ethiopian Somalis belong to the coalition that formed the Transitional Government.

 

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