Somalia: Three Wars At Once

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January 22, 2008: Things have calmed down sufficiently in Mogadishu in the last year for various media (local broadcasters and foreign reporters) to resume operations. This has led to more attacks on journalists, who often misunderstand the environment they are working in. Somalia is full of guys with guns, and warlords who are easily offended. Angry warlords tend to kill or severely injure people who offend them.

Meanwhile, there are three different wars going on. Up north the breakaway entities of Puntland and Somaliland continue fighting over possession of the Sool region, that lies astride their border. Both sides claim it, and both are willing to fight for it. The dispute has been going on since Puntland was formed in 1998, and declared they controlled the Sool because the inhabitants belonged to a Puntland tribe. Somaliland based their claim on borders drawn by the colonial governments of Italy and Britain a century ago. Years of negotiations have not settled anything. Northern Somalia has been better governed since breaking away from Somalia in the 1990 to form Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million). The other two-thirds of the Somali population to the south, has been in perpetual chaos since 1990.

Down south, in the old capital, Mogadishu, Ethiopian and Somali (from clans outside the city) continue to clear hostile clan populations from the city. Over 600,000 people have been driven from the city in the last year. These largely belonged to clans that backed the Islamic Courts, or were unhappy with Ethiopian troops in the country. Both sides are engaged in the usual endurance contest. Whoever can endure the pain of this daily combat the longest, wins. For Ethiopia, victory means keeping Somalis (led by the Islamic Courts) out of southern Ethiopia (which has a largely Somali population). For the Islamic Courts, victory means a few central Somali clans (including those getting hammered in Mogadishu now) would dominate the country via a religious dictatorship, and a holy war against Christian Ethiopia. That's not going to happen, because the Islamic Courts backs al Qaeda, and U.S. counter-terrorism forces in neighboring (to the north) Djibouti would intervene.

The third war is outside Mogadishu, where some of the displaced (from Mogadishu) Islamic Courts fighters are looking to easier pickings. Some of these guys have organized themselves into small groups and are driving around stealing what they can, and doing it all in the name of the Islamic Courts. There are some militias outside Mogadishu, but if a few dozen gunmen in cars and pickups avoid the defended places, they can pick on the weaker ones with much less risk.

The 8,000 man UN peacekeeping force has shown some activity of late. Uganda is rotating it 1.600 peacekeepers, bringing in new troops to replace the ones who have been basically sitting around defending themselves for the last year. Some 440 Burundi troops have arrived in Mogadishu, to join the Ugandans. The peacekeepers keep the airports secure, and a few other locations. If all 8,000 peacekeepers showed up, more areas in the city would be free of the daily chaos and violence. But the low level violence in the city would not disappear. That won't happen until all the hostile clans are driven from the city, and into refugee camps in the suburbs. While some people from other clans are moving into the vacated neighborhoods, the Ethiopians and Transitional Government still hope to cut a deal with the expelled clans.

 

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