Somalia: Islamic Forces Back Off


July 27, 2006: The already complex situation in Somalia is becoming even more so. The virtually powerless "Transitional Government" remains based in Baidoa, and is growing weaker as some sub-clans that formerly supported it, have made their peace with the Islamic Courts. The Islamic Courts have been consolidating control of much of southern and central Somalia, and its militiamen were threatening Baidoa. Then several thousand Ethiopian troops entered the country. The Ethiopians now appear to be providing security for the Transitional Government, and there is evidence that they are bringing in more troops and heavy equipment. As a result, despite its calls for "jihad" to oust the Ethiopians, the Islamic Courts have pulled their militiamen back from the vicinity of Baidoa.
Ethiopia's opposition to the Islamic Courts stems partially from traditional Christian-Moslem hostilities (despite centuries of Islamic pressure, most Ethiopians remain stoutly Christian), and also from long-standing Somali claims to the Ogaden region, which has long been in dispute between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the Al Qaeda influenced Islamic Courts are pressing for the imposition of Sharia law on the parts of Somalia that it controls. People have been harassed, arrested, and reportedly even executed for various "vices," such as watching the World Cup. As in much of Africa, however, the Somali brand of Islam is blended with many old customs. In addition, Somali Islam is strongly influenced by Sufism. That can be a problem for Sunni hard liners, as Sufi has some elements of Shia Islam, plus a strong mystical streak and a tradition of poetry, music, and spiritual dance. This is quite at variance with the hard-line Sunni version of the faith being pushed by the Islamic Courts. While the Islamic Courts has garnered popular support, the support is primarily derived from the desperate desire of most Somali for some order in their lives, after over 15 years of almost total chaos. As a result, many of the smaller clans, tired of being pushed around by the larger ones, committed themselves to the ICU. If the ICU pushes its agenda too hard, that support could begin to melt away.
July 27, 2006: In Baidoa, Ethiopian troops have withdrawn from the city, setting up three camps on the outskirts and trying to keep out of sight.
July 26, 2006: A Kazakh Il-76 jet transport, apparently carrying weapons, from Eritrea, for the Islamic Courts, landed at the Mogadishu airport. This was only the second time a large aircraft had landed at the airport in the last decade.
July 25, 2006: Hard core Islamic Courts gunmen have begun going from town to town trying to enforce Islamic law. Bars, theaters and video stores are shut down. Men are told to grow beards, and women forced to cover up more (long skirts, head scarves).
July 24, 2006: The Islamic Courts refused to attend peace talks with the Traditional Government in Sudan. The Islamic Courts ordered a mobilization of their forces, but the many clans making up the Islamic Courts are not enthusiastic about a war.


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