Somalia: Poor Prospects for Peace

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August 7, 2007: Most of the 400,000 Mogadishu residents who fled the major fighting in February-April belonged to clans that opposed the new government (which is supported by clans from outside Mogadishu, and several thousand Ethiopian troops). Since May, about 120,000 of those refugees returned. But that brought back many of the Islamic radical clan gunmen who are intent on regaining control of Mogadishu for their clans. The increased fighting since June has caused another 30,000 people to flee the city. Now the government and Ethiopian troops are again clearing out neighborhoods believed to be harboring terrorists.

The terror campaign in Mogadishu mainly consists of throwing hand grenades into markets or commercial buildings, or firing a pistol or assault rifle and fleeing. In some cases, several truckloads of gunmen will pull up near an Ethiopian base, open fire for a while, then drive away. There have been a few roadside bombs. The local terrorists are inspired by what al Qaeda is believed to be doing in Baghdad. But the Somali terrorists don't have access to the large amounts of explosives, weapons, cash and technical expertise available in Iraq. So the terrorism in Mogadishu is much less frequent, and not nearly as deadly. In one respect, the two situations are similar. The Islamic Courts terrorists are receiving support from clans that lost out (on monopolies and criminal activities shut down) when the Transitional Government and Ethiopian troops showed up. It's mainly about money, with a large dollop of pride. A major source of weapons, cash and encouragement is Eritrea, which wants to see Ethiopia get tied down in Somalia and suffer losses there.

The government reconciliation conference has attracted more hit-and-run attacks, and thousands of people living near the site of the conference (a large warehouse in an industrial district) have fled, to escape the frequent fire from troops guarding the site. The government knows which neighborhoods the gunmen and terrorists live in, and are now searching homes for weapons and suspects. The implied threat is that the government and Ethiopian troops will force large numbers of hostile clan members from the city if the violence doesn't stop.

The reconciliation conference is deadlocked because of religious, clan and personal rivalry issues. This has been the cause of decades, actually centuries, of disunity in the region known as Somalia. The region has only functioned as a nation for a few decades, after it was established in the 1960s. This, in turn, was largely the effort of colonial powers Britain and Italy. That attempt at nation building never really took, and no one appears to have a solution for that.

The breakaway statelets of Puntland and Somaliland up north, which have been islands of peace and prosperity, are also sliding back into the chaos of clan warfare.

 

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