Friday, January 12, 2007

Detroit Protests US Bombings & Occupations of Iraq and Somalia

Detroit Anti-War Movement Protests US Bombings & Occupations of Iraq and Somalia

WSU Law School's United Nations forum targeted in protest

By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

DETROIT, 11 Jan.,2007 (PANW)--Two demonstrations were held in Detroit today against the rising tide of United States militarism in Iraq and Somalia.

January 11 had been designated as a day of action by the anti-war movement around the country to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the opening of the torture camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as well as providing an opportunity for opponents of American militarism to speak out against the Bush administration's plans to send 25,000 more troops to Iraq.

In addition to the escalation of the war in Iraq, the Bush administration has embarked upon a bombing campaign in the east African nation of Somalia which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. AC-130 Hercules aircraft have been utilized to destroy communities in the areas around Ras Komboni, where the US claims al-Qaeda fighters responsible for the bombing of the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 are taking refuge.

At the Wayne State University Law School, a forum took place featuring Permanent Representatives of United Nations Missions from Iraq, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Japan, South Korea, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) called for a picket line outside the law school to express opposition to the puppet Iraqi regime's representative on campus in light of the overwhelming support inside the United States to end the war.

Also the presence of the Ethiopian Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Dawit Yohannes, provided a focus for protesting the role of the government of this Horn of Africa nation in carrying out the imperialist program of the Bush administration. Ethiopia invaded Somalia in December at the aegis of the United States, bombing its airport and causing the dislocation of tens of thousands of Somali civilians.

After the conclusion of the picket line outside the WSU Law School, members of MECAWI and others went into the auditorium where the forum was being held. This event, which was co-sponsored by the University's Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, the Detroit Council on World Affairs and Humpty Dumpty Institute, attempted to restrict debate and discussion by refusing to allow members of the audience to speak and ask questions to the Ambassadors.

Audience participants were asked to write their questions on index cards and pass them forward to the forum's moderators. Critical questions related to the ongoing occupation of Iraq and the American-backed occupation of Somalia and the bombing of that nation were ignored. After it became obvious that any criticism of the United States and its allies present at the forum would not be allowed, members of the audience including MECAWI representatives, began to shout out questions and statements in opposition to the Bush administration's policies in the Middle-East and the Horn of Africa.

The Ambassadors from Ethiopia and Kenya, then attempted to justify their pro-US actions in east Africa. According to Ambassador Dawit Yohannes of Ethiopia: "We are in Somalia based on our own interest. The US has taken a firm anti-terrorism position and we support this."

When members of MECAWI pointed out that most people viewed Ethiopia's action as part and parcel of US policy in the region, the sponsors of this forum sought to silence the activists. One woman who had began to scream and shout about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis that have been killed since the beginning of the American occupation, was asked to leave the auditorium.

MECAWI member Derrick Grigsby asked the Ethiopian Ambassador Dawit Yohannes direct questions about allegations related to an al-Qaeda presence in Somalia. "How do we know what you are saying is the truth? The US can label someone al-Qaeda and then justify their murder," Grigsby said.

MECAWI pointed out that the Bush administration has repeatedly lied about a terrorist threat and weapons of mass destruction in order to provide a rationale for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only the Ambassador from Bangladesh, Mr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, conveyed an appreciation for questions asked by MECAWI representatives.

Two members of MECAWI then continued to shout out critical questions and statements related to recent events in Iraq and Somalia. After the forum was over, MECAWI approached the Ambassador from Kenya, Mr. Z.D. Muburi-Muita, and handed him a copy of a statement issued to the press which condemned American involvement in the Horn of Africa and Iraq. The statement was also handed over to the Iraqi Ambassador, Mr. Talib Hamid Al Bayati, as well as the Ethiopian UN Representative, Mr Dawit Yohannes.

The MECAWI members expressed to the Ambassadors from Kenya and Ethiopia an extreme displeasure related to their government's military and political alliance with the Bush administration in carrying out the occupation of Somalia and the bombing of civilian areas inside the country. MECAWI representatives informed the Ambassadors that the overwhelming majority of people within the United States opposed the war in Iraq and that they were aware that both the African Union and the Arab League had called for Ethiopia's military withdrawal from Somalia.

Another anti-war demonstration was held at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit later in the day beginning at 4:00 p.m. Activists gathered to demand the closure of the Guantanamo Bay torture camps which were established five years ago. These camps have engaged in the brutal torture of Muslim detainees who have been denied the right to due process.

Activists at today's demonstrations circulated leaflets for the upcoming annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Rally & March in downtown Detroit on January 15. MECAWI, which initiated the annual MLK Day March four years ago, is calling for a mass demonstration outside the offices of US Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, on Friday, January 19. MECAWI will be demanding that not one more penny be spent on the occupation of Iraq.

"We are calling for the complete unconditional withdrawal of all US military forces from Iraq," a MECAWI representative stated. MECAWI is to host a citywide mass meeting on February 17 on the ongoing Iraq war in an effort to further mobilize people to attend the upcoming national march in Washington on March 17.

For more information on MECAWI just log on to the following URL: http://www.mecawi .


Pan-African News Wire said...

Somalia needs African solidarity

By President Thabo Mbeki
Republic of South Africa
Reprinted From ANC Today
12 January 2007

In June 1974, a few of us spent some days in Mogadishu, Somalia, as members of an ANC delegation. We had come to the capital of Somalia to attend the annual Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Assembly of Heads of State and Government. As was the practice then, the Assembly had elected the President of Somalia, Major General Siad Barre, as its Chairperson and Chair of the OAU until the next Assembly. Siad Barre therefore presided over the proceedings of the Mogadishu Summit.

During that month of June, as it hosted the Assembly, Mogadishu served as the venue for a great African celebration. The reason for the celebration was the then impending collapse of Portuguese colonialism and the liberation of the African Portuguese colonies. Unquestionably, the star of the day, who attended the Assembly, was the late Samora Machel, who was to become the first President of liberated Mozambique.

In its 24 June 1974 edition the US "Time" magazine carried an article entitled "Sinking the Lusitanian". Among other things it said: "When President Antonio de Spinola inaugurated new governors for Angola and Mozambique...for the first time ever in a public speech about the territories, (he) used the word that Africans had been waiting for him to speak: independence. 'Self-determination cannot be dissociated from democracy,' he said, adding: 'Neither can we dissociate self-determination from independence.'

"The declaration suggested that Spinola was willing to let sink his pet idea of a 'Lusitanian Federation' - a close alliance of Portugal with semi-autonomous African territories. As the general's speech went on, however, a chill set in. In an apparent volte-face from his earlier tone, he outlined four gradual stages of decolonisation, only at the end of which would the possibility of independence be broached.

"All this may merely have been Spinola's way of asserting his determination not to see white settler interests sold down the river in the territories. However it was meant, liberation movement leaders at the annual meeting in Mogadishu, Somalia, of the Organisation of African neo-colonialism into every word. Declared Frelimo Vice President Marcelino dos Santos: 'Our attacks will be maintained and even increased until independence is conceded under the sole leadership of Frelimo.'"

If others might have had doubts about the certainty of the liberation of the Portuguese colonies, the ANC had none. In a letter of congratulations to the new Secretary General of the OAU elected in Mogadishu, William Eteki Mboumoua, Oliver Tambo said:

"Throughout the world, the forces of reaction are suffering successive defeats. The peoples of Africa and the world struggling for national liberation, social progress and peace are scoring impressive victories.

"Of particular relevance to us and to the great peoples of Africa is, of course, the heroic victory scored by our brother peoples and combatants of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde in helping to bring about the downfall of the hated Portuguese colonial and fascist regime of Caetano.

"This decisive victory has not only opened up the prospects for the rapid accession to independence of the Portuguese colonies in Africa, it has also greatly strengthened the liberation forces of our own country..."

As part of a cultural programme put together for the benefit of the delegates, a Somali drama group performed a play that sought to denounce the neo-colonialism mentioned by "Time" magazine, and which severely compromised the independence of African countries. The play had scenes of delegates visiting Western embassies on their way to OAU meetings.

Here they would be given briefcases full of cash. They would then be given instructions on the resolutions they should propose at these OAU meetings and how they should vote. The sketches included instructions on the need for these delegates to do everything possible to frustrate the struggles against colonialism and apartheid.

This was the first and last time I visited Mogadishu. For many years afterwards Mogadishu and Somalia remained in our memories as African places of hope for us, a reliable rear base for the total liberation of Africa, including our liberation from apartheid. Indeed, in later years, others of our comrades returned to Mogadishu, this time to work with the Somali government to prepare for the clandestine infiltration into South Africa of cadres of Umkhonto we Sizwe, who would travel to apartheid South Africa by sea, secretly departing from the Somali ports!

The fact of the matter however is that in time Somalia fell apart and ceased to exist as a viable state. This has led to the eventuality that, as the year 2007 began, Somalia put itself firmly at the top of the African Agenda. Whereas in 1974 all our liberation movements and independent Africa counted on Somali support to achieve the goals of the African Revolution, in 2007 Somalia needs the support of the rest of the African Continent, again to achieve the goals of the African Revolution.

It is true that Somalia remains an independent state. However, for 15 years it has been victim to a protracted internal conflict that resulted in the collapse of the state, the death of an estimated one million Somalis, the emigration of thousands as refugees, and the impoverishment of millions as a result of severe and sustained socio-economic regression.

Further to complicate the situation, giving it a global dimension, allegations have now been made that international terrorist groups have established themselves in Somalia, taking advantage of the situation created by the collapse of the Somali state.

Earlier, in the context of the conflict that ensued after the overthrow of Siad Barre, the United Nations (UN) had authorised a US-led military mission to intervene in Somalia, among other things to create the conditions for the distribution of humanitarian assistance. In 1993 Somali combat groups in Mogadishu killed 18 US soldiers, after shooting down a US helicopter. This incident came to be known as "Black Hawk Down", and led to the withdrawal of the US troops and the termination of the UN mission, which failed to achieve its objectives.

Somalia has also turned into a source of regional instability, even as the African Continent through the African Union (AU) has intensified its efforts to ensure that ours becomes a Continent of peace, focused on responding to the challenge of eradicating poverty and underdevelopment.

For the sake both of Somalia and our Continent as a whole, Africa has no choice but to come to the aid of this sister African country. In many respects the deeply entrenched Somali crisis demonstrates what can happen to many of our countries if they are not governed and managed in a manner that addresses the interests of all citizens, bearing in mind the national specifics of each country.

As a state entity Somalia came into being as recently as 1960. In that year the two colonies, British and Italian Somaliland, gained their independence. To end the fragmentation of the Somali population brought about by colonialism, they then decided to merge and form the United Republic of Somalia.

This process of the unification of the Somali-speaking people however also led to tensions with neighbouring countries, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, each one of which has a Somali-speaking minority. The worst manifestation of these tensions was, of course, the 1977 war with Ethiopia, when Somalia tried to annex the Somali-speaking Ogaden region of Ethiopia. (Feudal Ethiopia had managed to seize part of Ogaden during the 1880s, and later succeeded to get the whole of it through an agreement with colonial Britain.)

We mention these events because today there are Ethiopian troops in Somalia. Not surprisingly, the media reports that many Somalis consider this Ethiopian presence as a humiliation. One businessman, Abdulahi Mohamed Mohamud, was reported as saying, "We are afraid of a long war, and people are angry at the Ethiopian troops."

As the Somali state collapsed after the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991, it became a conglomeration of different enclaves. North-west Somalia proclaimed itself the independent Republic of Somaliland. The Puntland region declared its autonomy. Various parts especially of southern Somalia fell under the control of different clan leaders, or "warlords".

The question that must arise is whether, in fact, during the years of independence, the different traditional "clan" areas and sections of the Somali population had developed a strong enough sense of national cohesion and identity to ensure the survival of the United Republic of Somalia proclaimed in 1960!

The importance of this question is highlighted by the role played by the issue of clan divisions in the uprising that overthrew Siad Barre in 1991, who evidently had discriminated against some clans, specifically the Mijertyn and Isaq clans, in favour of his own Marehan clan. In this regard, a BBC correspondent, Peter Biles, has reported that: "When Somalia's president was overthrown in 1991, much of the country fell under the control of warlords and clan-based factions."

Another report spoke of "the oppressive, capricious, and clan-based autocracy of the late dictator, Siyad Barre, who used his interpretation of clan institutions for his own ends, to oppress political opponents, create inequality, and promote conflict and violence. So great was his malevolence and abuse of power that virtually all Somalis now hold a deep-seated fear and distrust of any centralized authority."

Another important element of the story of Somalia is that, as had happened in many African countries at the time, General Siad Barre had acceded to power in 1969 by coup d'etat. He seized power after Abdi Rashid Ali Shermarke, elected President in 1967, had been assassinated. Inevitably, the absence of democratic institutions would make it extremely difficult for the different Somali clans, regions and interest groups to negotiate among themselves to define a national compact that would ensure the cohesion of the nation.

Somalia now has an Interim Government that is recognised by the AU and the rest of the world, born in 2004 after protracted negotiations held in Kenya, involving the warring Somali factions. As a result of the Ethiopian intervention, which ousted the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that had fought itself into a position of power in Mogadishu and other parts of southern Somalia, this Government is now operating from Mogadishu.

As the military conflict continued after the ouster of the UIC, the US decided to launch air strikes against the retreating UIC adherents, claiming that it was striking at terrorists who had bombed the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in 1998 and then taken refuge in Somalia. The majority of the world, including the AU and the UN, has been forthright in opposing this action, correctly asserting that this will not help to resolve the crisis in Somalia and would add oil to the fires that are burning in the Middle East. In addition, some Somalis have been quoted as saying that these air strikes were carried out as an act of vengeance for the death of 18 US soldiers in Mogadishu in 1993 and the shooting down of the US 'Black Hawk' helicopter.

Responding to the events in Somalia, including these US air strikes, the Foreign Minister of neighbouring Yemen, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, said:

"Yemen was hoping that the Islamic Courts and the interim government would have settled their differences through the negotiating table. Unfortunately this did not happen.

"Now we have to deal with the situation as it is, and we will have to work on getting everybody concerned in Somalia to negotiate the future management of Somalia, to restore peace and security, and to put the interests of Somalia above the interests of clans or political parties or ideologies."

In these words, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi set the agenda for Somalia that the AU must address during this year, 2007. Supported by the UN Security Council, the AU is engaged in an urgent process that should result in the deployment of AU peace-keeping troops in Somalia, to help this sister country to extricate itself from its protracted crisis.

In this regard, the January 2007 President of the Security Council, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, announced that the Council regards Somalia as "a high priority matter" and is concerned about instability, security, and the humanitarian situation. The Council strongly supports an inclusive political dialogue among various political forces in Somalia and favours the speedy deployment of IGASOM, the new force that would be set up by the African Union and a seven-nation East African regional group of nations.

Time will tell when the next Assembly of Heads of State and Government, this time of the AU, will convene in Mogadishu. For that to happen, as Africans we will have to do everything necessary to overcome the old and new historic problems that have placed Somalia on our agenda as an unresolved problem of the African Revolution, as the liberation of the Portuguese colonies was an unresolved problem of the African Revolution in 1974.

Beyond this, perhaps, as Africans, we should seriously consider whether we should not take up the call originally made by former President Khatami of Iran for a "dialogue of civilisations" - a dialogue that would lead to a peaceful resolution of conflicts between clans, within nation states, between states, and between coalitions of states, to ensure that the Somali example of anarchy and death is not visited on our countries and the rest of humanity. Might this not serve as a fitting tribute to the 50th anniversary of the historic independence of Ghana of Kwame Nkrumah, which we will celebrate this year, 2007!

Pan-African News Wire said...

Clashes mar Somali talks
13/01/2007 ABC News Online

Saturday, January 13, 2007. 0:25am (AEDT)

Clashes mar Somali talks
Militiamen clashed outside talks to try and bring peace to Somalia, where a charity said anti-Islamist air raids had hit the wrong people and killed 70 herdsmen.

President Abdullahi Yusuf, in the capital Mogadishu after driving out Islamists with Ethiopian help, was talking to former warlords at his compound to try and bury past differences when his government guards and warlord militiamen clashed.

A government spokesman said armed followers of two warlords had tried to force their way inside Villa Somalia.

"Fighting ensued. It went on for nearly four minutes," he said.

Two militiamen were killed and four wounded, he added, while a government security source said up to nine may have died.

Mr Yusuf's government took Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia from Islamists in a lightning offensive late last year.

The Islamists had driven the warlords out of the city in June after four months of fighting.


The British-based aid agency Oxfam said air raids to pursue the Islamists as they fled south in recent days had mistakenly targeted nomadic herdsmen, killing 70 of them.

"Under international law, there is a duty to distinguish between military and civilian targets," it said, citing its local partner organisations in Somalia for the information.

Washington sent a warplane into Somalia on Monday to try and take out what US officials say are top Al Qaeda suspects hiding with the Islamists.

Ethiopia, which backs Mr Yusuf's interim government, has also mounted air raids against retreating fighters.

While some Somali sources have reported scores of deaths, there has been no independent confirmation on the ground.

Washington's strike was its first overt military involvement in Somalia since a disastrous peacekeeping mission in 1994.

It killed up to 10 Al Qaeda allies, but missed its main target of three top suspects, the US government said.

US denial

On Wednesday Washington denied carrying out any further strikes.

The United States appealed for a speedy deployment of African peacekeepers to prevent a "security vacuum" that could spawn fresh anarchy after the Islamists were ousted.

The United Nations said food had begun reaching 6,000 fleeing Somalis who were blocked from entering Kenya after Nairobi sealed the border to stop routed Islamists escaping.

The hunt for Islamists by Ethiopian and Somali troops - aided by the US strike - has left another 190,000 people cut off from humanitarian relief, the World Food Program said.

As well as conflict, a drought at the start of 2006 followed by floods at the end of year have piled on the misery for Somalis, whose nation was already one of the world's poorest.

US ally Ethiopia, which is the Horn of Africa's major power, wants to withdraw its soldiers in the coming weeks.

But some diplomats fear that would leave Mr Yusuf vulnerable against the threats of remnant Islamists vowing guerrilla war, warlords seeking to re-create their fiefdoms, and competing clans.

- Reuters

Pan-African News Wire said...

How has the world reacted to the US strike?

Last Monday night, the US Air Force launched an air strike against Islamist fighters in southern Somalia. An AC-130 was used to eliminate the three suspects believed to be involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dares Salaam.

This is the first overt US military operation in Somalia, although, Somalia had been at the centre of invisible war - mainly covert operations such as snatching operations. In July 2005, a report published by the International Crisis Group noted, "… away from the spotlight, a quiet, dirty conflict is being waged in Somalia: in the rubble-strewn streets of the ruined capital of this state without a government, Mogadishu, al-Qaeda operatives, jihadi extremists, Ethiopian security services and Western-backed counter-terrorism networks are engaged in a shadowy and complex contest waged by intimidation, abduction and assassination."

After Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia, this country has become the new front in America's war on terror. The aerial bombing took place in an area near the Kenyan border and it is too early to know the exact number of people killed or wounded and whether the targeted suspects were liquidated. However, a high number of casualties were reported. A senior Somali government official told the Reuters news agency: "There are so many dead bodies and animals in the village."

So, how has the world reacted to the US strike?

The Somali president, Abdullahi Yusuf, told a group of journalists: "I don't know that air strike was in two places or not, but if it's confirmed, I agree with the Americans to target those who were behind the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa." Hussein Aideed, Somalia's deputy prime minister, explained the US strike: "the US was trying to kill the al-Qaida terrorists who carried out the bomb attacks on their embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

They have our full support for the attacks." Somali Information Minister Ali Ahmed Jama gave this reaction: "The Islamists are hiding in the thick jungle and it's only air strikes that eliminate them from there. The strikes ...will continue until no terrorist survives."Amadeu Altafaj Tardio, a European commission spokesman, disapproved the air strike: "Any incident of this kind is not helpful in the long term."

Michele Montas, a spokesman of the UN Secretary-General, expressed concern over the consequence of the US action: "The Secretary is concerned about the new dimension this kind of action could introduce to the conflict and the possible escalation of hostilities that may result."

Matt Bryden, a consultant to the International Crisis Group, taunted: "If no foreigners died, this will just be the latest element in a comedy of errors by the US and a step towards the new Iraq of Africa."

Bob Baer, a former CIA agent, made this analysis: "It's akin to the heart of darkness, just shooting into the jungle. At the end of the day you are just making more enemies."Simon Tisdall of the Guardian wrote: "The US air strikes in Somalia could hinder rather than help efforts to resolve the country's internal crisis."

Richard Cornwell of the Institute for Security Studies in Johannesburg saw it as: "The AC130 is an appallingly blunt instrument and I very much doubt it can be used to target individuals. To kill alleged terrorists regardless of collateral damage is highly hypocritical."

Mohamed Mukhtar London

Pan-African News Wire said...

Somalia at the crossroads

Harun Hassan
10 - 1 - 2007

The Somali government and its Ethiopian allies – now backed by United States military force – have won the battle for Somalia. But the war cannot end without a political settlement, says Harun Hassan.

Somalia's enigmatic conflict has taken yet another dramatic turn. As 2006 ended and 2007 dawned, after six months of political stand-off and military build-up going on side-by-side, the situation exploded into full armed confrontation.

The result was a lightning victory for the Ethiopian army and its Somali allies, namely the Baidoa-based transitional federal government (TFG) and the
"freelance" warlords supporting it. Their adversaries, the militias of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), were defeated and scattered (and, from 7 January 2007, subjected to heavy bombardment by the United States air force). In the space of ten days, Somalia's political prospects have been reversed in the most unpredictable circumstances.

A conflict that grew from small, local beginnings has now exploded onto the front pages and television screens of the world's media, reflecting the sudden
"global" reappropriation of the Somali conflict into the far larger narrative of the United States's "war on terror" (or "long war").

The latest developments on the ground, and comments by United States officials, confirm Somalia's new status as a third "theatre" in this war (after Iraq and Afghanistan). US planes launched a further wave of air strikes in southern Somalia on 10 January, following bombing raids targeting (according to these officials) al-Qaida leaders who allegedly have found refuge among elements of the ICU forces in the area. In a significant move, the European Union and the United Nations have criticised the US's tactics.

The US has named three men, whom they accuse of involvement in the August 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which claimed 250 lives: Fazul Abdullah Mohamed (from the Comoros Islands); Abu Talha al-Sudani (a Sudanese) and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan (a Kenyan). There has been no confirmed sighting of the three men in Somalia, though reports suggest that Fazul Abdullah Mohamed was killed in the latest raid; in any case, the anarchy in the country and the lack of strong central government have exposed its borders (air, sea and land) to all kinds of abuse for a long time.

The area the US planes are bombing is a large jungle stretching for about 200 kilometres along the Somalia-Kenya border where the ICU militias are putting up stiff resistance. The US's main military objective is to crush the remnants of the ICU to a point of no return. The ICU here may still have more than 2,000 men in arms and ready to fight. The Somali media report that Ethiopian troops on the ground took heavy casualties on 7-8 January and hence asked for the US bombardment. Ethiopian MIG jets themselves had been bombing this area for about ten days but are unlikely to have the capacity for the pinpoint strikes that the US's superior technology can guarantee.

In all this military escalation, it is too easy to forget that innocent civilians - including those already displaced by and fleeing from the war - are being killed, perhaps in considerable numbers. Some farmers of the region are also losing the animals that are the foundation of their livelihood. This situation has the ingredients of a humanitarian disaster that compounds Somalia's already endemic human insecurity.

Dispersal and retreat

The war for Somalia, then, has entered a decisive new phase. Even less than a month ago, the current situation would have seemed an astonishing outcome. On 12 December 2006, the commander of the then-confident Islamic Courts Union militias in Somalia gave the Ethiopian troops supporting the Somali government a week's ultimatum to leave the country or face being ousted by force. But even as he made the announcement, Ethiopia had (amid scornful denials of any such activity in Addis Ababa) deployed several mechanised brigades inside Somalia and prepared them for war.

On 20 December, a day after the ICU deadline passed, gunfire crackled at the frontline between the two sides near the Somali government's temporary base at Baidoa. A new phase of the war had begun. Eight days later, the Ethiopian army had (with their Somali allies) captured the Somali capital Mogadishu and other major urban centres previously controlled by the ICU. The militants of a crumbling ICU, losing one town after the other, were forced to flee further south into the jungle-ridden region bordering Kenya.

There were two crucial factors in the unexpected good fortune of the Somali government, which had been at the receiving end of a fierce onslaught just before the final conflict. The first was the ICU's underestimation of the power of the Ethiopian army. Between 8,000 and 10,000 Ethiopian troops were reportedly involved in the fighting, armed with US-made helicopter gunships and tanks, jet fighters and heavy artillery. This force, aided by 3,000 government militias, was almost twice as large as the ICU militias, armed only with AK-47s, machineguns and bazookas.

The second factor was that the ICU's tactical plan - to capture Baidoa and turn the battle into urban and street warfare (which most of its fighters are familiar with) - went disastrously wrong, as they were forced to take on a conventional army in an open frontline. Even so, for seven days neither side had made any significant territorial gains until the ICU's defences in the central regions of Somalia collapsed.

At that point, the Ethiopian and Somali government forces took the initiative and forced the ICU militias to retreat from Baidoa. Soon, one town after another fell and the ICU was never given a chance to regroup. On 27 December the Ethiopians and their Somali allies marched into the capital unopposed. ICU fighters had been expected to fight in Mogadishu and the southerly town of Kismayo; instead they opted to retreat, and perhaps for a guerrilla war from the bush.

On 28 December 2006, Somalia entered a new era.

Victors and vanquished

Three winners and three losers emerge from the latest battle for Somalia.

The first winner is Somalia's transitional federal government itself. This body is now expected to relocate to Mogadishu (for the first time since its formation in Kenya in 2004) to fill the political vacuum, backed by a contingent of African Union troops to be deployed in the country soon.

The second victor is the Ethiopian government, which executed a decisive political and military strategy by crushing the potential for the emergence of a powerful, hostile neighbour. At the least, Ethiopia has averted (perhaps for several years) the arrival of a Somali government led by individuals combining strong religious beliefs with nationalistic tendencies.

The third winner is the United States, which has for the time being won its proxy war against Somalia's Islamic leaders whom it accuses of having links with al-Qaeda and harbouring wanted terrorists (claims yet to be substantiated).

The first of the three losers in this conflict is the Islamic Courts Union. The ICU has paid the price of its political immaturity and rash decisions. The very strength of its militias compared to the forces of the TFG, and the huge territory it came to control in the course of 2006, proved a double-edged sword in terms of its capacity for flexibility and compromise (see "Somalia's new Islamic leadership", 13 June 2006).

The second vanquished element is Eritrea, which has lost a key ally in its proxy tussle with Ethiopia for regional influence. It has, however, been learned that Eritrea had no military personnel in Somalia (against UN claims that as many as 2,000 Eritrean troops were present).

The third loser is international diplomacy, which has lost ground to violence and the preference for military action. Somalia's latest armed confrontation could have been avoided if there had been honest and firm diplomacy at crucial moments. This failure casts shame on the international community as well as the immediate combatants.

The involvement of an Islamist group helped give Somalia's latest conflict an international dimension. Yet for months, the United Nations, United States, European Union, African Union and the Arab League chose to look on as the trouble escalated towards armed confrontation. These agencies may have had conflicting interests, and doubts about Ethiopia's deployment of its army across the border "in defence of the national interest" - but they chose silence or consent. Their attitude is a green light to similar "pre-emptive invasions".

Ethiopia and Somalia

This conflict has been depicted as a regional, proxy or even (in ideological terms) a global conflict. The deeper if less headline-friendly truth is that it is yet another round of the long history of conflict between the two societies of Ethiopia and Somalia.

Ethiopia's main daily papers have used the term "mission accomplished" after their forces entered the Somali capital. Likewise, many Somali media outlets have described 28 December 2006 as a dark day in Somalia's history. This gives us an indication why these two countries may be the biggest losers in this conflict.

There is a long history of tension between these lands. Ethiopia's ancient kingdoms - from the 2nd-century CE kingdom of Aksum - invaded and ruled many parts of Somalia. The Somalis (or "black Berbers" as they were then known) were pushed towards coastal areas where they enjoyed close, trade-based relations with the ancient Egyptians. Somali dynasties and sultanates thus experienced torrid contacts with their Ethiopian equivalents; but tension worsened even further when Islam reached Somalia in the 9th century.

In the early 16th century, one of the most catastrophic wars took place. A Somali warrior with a desire to expand the rule of Islam, Imam Ahmed Gurey (or Ahmed Gran), was aided by the Ottoman empire to invade Ethiopia and defeat the army of its emperor Lebna Dengel. Along the way he captured vast lands and slaughtered many people who refused to convert to Islam. But the Ethiopians regrouped and (with the help of Portugal) counter-attacked, defeated and killed Gurey.

Four centuries later - in the wake of the imperial "scramble for Africa" at the beginning of the 20th century - another Somali warrior, Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, took up arms against the British who then occupied parts of Somalia. To stay on good terms with the European colonialists, the Ethiopian emperor Menelik II joined the campaign against the Somali leader in support of Britain by invading Somalia's Ogaden region.

In an early stage in its own era of imperial retreat, Britain in 1948 granted the Ogaden to Ethiopia and asked the UN to consider other parts of Somalia for independence. Somalia launched military operations in 1964 and 1977 to regain this region, but failed.

It is this history which overshadows the current predicament and Ethiopia's presence in Somalia. It is a past that haunts many people from the two countries.

In practice, this may not be a war between two governments, because the internationally recognised Somali government is at present in a mutually supportive relationship with the Ethiopians. But theoretically and ideologically, it is also war between the two societies.

In this light, the political soundbites and the international dimension of the current situation are less important than this latest black spot in the relationship between the two neighbouring societies. The reason for this is that history will not recall Ethiopia's triumphant operation in Somalia as the work of two allied governments, but rather as one of the greatest military success against the rise of political Islam in Africa - if not the whole world.

War and politics

Somalia's president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, says that this moment is a new beginning for Somalia and a chance for the international community to help. The US, EU and the AU have responded. It is now official that AU troops will be sent in - perhaps as early as the end of January - although their mission's mandate has not been specified.

Ethiopia's leader Meles Zenawi says it intends to keep its troops in Somalia for only a few weeks, and to leave once the AU troops arrive - a position supported by the US and British government. But the victorious Somali prime minister, as he returned to the capital, says the Ethiopians will stay as long as the Somali government needs them to stay. This very sensitive option is a real possibility. Could it also turn victory into defeat?

There are two reasons to think so. The first is that the Ethiopian intervention is a diplomatic nightmare for the international community. When the east African regional states initially proposed - after long and painful two-year negotiations - sending troops to Somalia in support of the Somali government, they were careful to exclude countries bordering Somalia (Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti) - as all three had conflicting interests over Somalia as well as large ethnic Somali populations.

This view was echoed after the formation of the Somali government in 2004, when the transitional parliament approved the deployment of African troops but specifically excluded the same neighbouring countries. In December 2006 too, when the United Nations adopted a resolution allowing the deployment of 8,000 African forces in Somalia, these same three nations were again excluded. All this makes a strong case that the Ethiopian entry into Somalia violated international norms and legality.

Second, the three engaged governments - Somali, Ethiopian and American - will find it hard to change the perception of Somalis towards the Ethiopian forces, considering the circumstances of their entry, specifically if the situation on the ground becomes unfavourable to the latter (if, for instance, the TFG fails to deliver and insecurity continues to reign, and/or the ICU re-emerges from the bush).

There have already been anti-Ethiopian demonstrations in Mogadishu in protest at attempts to collect arms. The Somali government has now delayed the arms-collection policy indefinitely. Meanwhile, tension is rising in the central town of Beletweyne after the Ethiopians detained a high-ranking commander of the Somali government forces after he pardoned and refused to hand over the local chairman of the Islamic Courts to the Ethiopians.

The problem for the government with regard to the defeated ICU is that the latter carries no political stigma other than the allegation by the US and Ethiopia of links with terrorists. Thus, if it survives the current onslaught, it will not be surprising if some ICU officials reappear in major towns in a few months.

Present and future

This makes a diplomatic option continually relevant. The prospective deployment of African Union troops will also need new and creative political initiatives in order to reach a solution. The Somali government will have to act in a reconciliatory manner and avoid vengeance and scapegoating; militias and clans will have to be disarmed across the country on equal terms and in return be given guarantees of justice and security; the government will have to avoid disunity while trying to perform miracles of delivery.

The Somali government and its Ethiopian allies have occupied places where the ICU has ruled for several months with a substantial record of achievement: it implemented law and order, opened all the ports (along the longest coastline in Africa), rebuilt major government institutions (the presidential palace, Mogadishu's international airport, the high court, the prison, and the foreign-and information-ministry blocks) - and disarmed all the warlords. It is a tall order for the government, but even half of what ICU has managed in the same period would be seen by many Somalis as a significant step.

The military success of the Somali government and the Ethiopians, and the post-war deployment of troops, will count for nothing if no solution is found to the politics of one of Africa's most complicated conflicts. Any failure here will haunt African Union's military commanders who will have to deal with the political fallout, and the Somali people will continue to suffer.

Somalia, Ethiopia (and the US) have already made one major political error, by installing four warlords (none even members of the Somali government) to govern areas they ruled before the ICU ejected them.

This raises in sharp form the question of whether the ICU could make a comeback. Somalia's political process has been stagnant for most of the past sixteen years - dominated by the same warlords and clan leaders. The dramatic turn of early summer 2006 brought the ICU to a commanding position, which they went on to lose after six months. The present stage will see two major deployments of foreign troops within a short period. The chances of yet more surprises are real. Will one of them be the return of the ICU through guerrilla war, or in the form of another resistance group.

Two scenarios could contribute to the return of the Islamic Courts Union. The first is that the transitional federal government continues to rely on foreign support - from Ethiopia or other African troops, or both - but does not earn the trust of ordinary Somalis. The second is that the TFG does not find a political mechanism either to accommodate or to expunge the freelance warlords, thus making the restoration of security very difficult. The longer these warlords stay outside the government the more opposition groups are likely to increase.

The battle has been won, at least for the moment. Yet there is no sign that the war will end soon. Somalia remains at the crossroads.