Friday, January 26, 2007

A View on the Rise of the Somali Union of Islamic Courts

PANW Editor's Note: The following article represents the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Pan-African News Wire.

The Rise of Fall of the Somali Union of Islamic Courts

by Abdirahman Adan Mohamoud

Brief Introduction

Since the toppling of the former regime, Southern Somalia remained lawless country where law and order is the remembrance of the yesteryears. Chaos and disorder spread throughout the country. Competing warlords turned Mogadishu, the capital city, a divided and one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Also, freelance militia men who were answerable to no one roamed the streets of the major towns where they robbed everything that carried whatever value. The once emerging and developing African country was reduced into a lawless and collection of clan-based fiefdoms.

In Somaliland, the situation was different as the region unilaterally declared its independence in the aftermath of Somali state failure and maintained relative peace and stability since then. It has taken series of steps to restore governmental institutions. The most recent and the most remarkable ones were the three successful elections held in which the international community recognized as fair and free elections.

Following the footsteps of Somaliland, Puntland state of Somalia was formed in 1998 and restored some degree of political stability. However, the rest of the country remained chaotic as the warring faction leaders and militias took the reign of Southern Somalia. The level of anarchy of the country reached to a point where the capital city of Mogadishu has not had an administration since President Mohamed Siyad Bare was ousted early in 1991.

The Emergence of Islamic Courts

At the peak of the civil war, people in lawless Southern Somalia sought an alternate justice system given the fact that all judiciary was in ruin due to the country’s political turmoil. Tribal elders and religious leaders then turned to Islamic tribal courts where every community or tribesmen established an Islamic court of its own. These courts were initially supposed to restore law and order, punish perpetrators, protect the weak and provide security to the immediate inhabitants of its vicinity.

The political situation of Southern Somalia was in disarray when the authority of the Islamic courts spread in Mogadishu and beyond. The Mogadishu-based warlords considered the emergence of the Islamic courts as a direct threat to their interests and decided to curb it before it matures to a very powerful force.

Within a short period of time, the security situation of the courts-controlled areas greatly improved and many confessed this positive development. However, the overall political situation of Southern Somalia remained tense and even descended into further violence and increasing insecurity. This was because the warlords in Mogadishu and their militias were not prepared to end the nation’s plea. All the efforts of the International Community to reconcile between the warring factions and install a government of national unity ended in vein.

Formation of the Council of Restoration of Peace and Counter Terrorism

In 2006, the warlords in Mogadishu embarked on what they called an anti-terrorist campaign. They announced the foundation of a new organization that brought together almost all warlords and dissident government ministers in Mogadishu. Restoration of Peace and Counter Terrorism Alliance announced to fight and destroy Union of Islamic Courts. They also accused UIC of harboring internationally-wanted figures and members of Al-Qaeda Network, pledging they would extradite these figure to their countries of origin- an allegation vigorously and constantly denied by UIC. The formation of this alliance was perceived as an apparent attempt to gain the collaboration and admiration from the US troops in the region and beyond.

Most of the warlords who controlled Mogadishu were members of the federal transitional parliament which was formed in neighboring Kenya. Some were even cabinet ministers and assumed ministerial posts. However, there was a strong and bitter division among the Transitional Federal Institutions and these Mogadishu warlords were heading a faction within the government. After being in exile for a number of months, the TFG government moved to Jowhar- a township of 90km west of Mogadishu and controlled by a warlord called Mohamed Omer Habeb (Mohamed Dhere). The speaker of the parliament had a row with the TFG’s top officials including the president and the premier and therefore he opted Mogadishu as his seat.

Founding members of this alliance among others included Mohamed Qanyare Afrah, Muse Sudi Yalaxow, Omer Fillish, Abdi Qeybdid, Botan Essa Alin, Bashir Rage Shirar, Abdirashid Ilqayte, Abdi Nour Ziyad, Mohamed Omer Habeeb and their likes. These men vowed to destroy Islamic courts and to extradite the alleged foreigners and Al-Qaeda operatives to the wanted countries. The UIC on their hand believed that warlords are selling Somali religious leader. As a result, this sparked off a deadly and bitter fighting between the Islamic Courts and the Anti-terrorist Alliance.

The two parties exchanged allegations and counter allegations. The anti-terrorist alliance for instance, was accusing UIC of bringing the country and protecting internationally-wanted figures. Also, they placed an accusation that UIC was receiving weapons and military equipment from external sources. On the other hand, the UIC criticized Ethiopia and the US government being behind the formation of the counter-terrorism alliance and funding its operations.

Fighting Erupts in Mogadishu

As the misunderstanding of the UIC and anti terrorist alliance reached its peak, war broke out in Mogadishu, each one pledging to sweep their opponent out of the ground. The anti terrorist alliance was committed to get rid of the Islamic courts. However, they failed to realistically assess the situation as they have underestimated the support and backing of the general public who tired of their domination. In this regard, the local people in Mogadishu underpinned the Islamic courts and generously financed the war until UIC succeeded to oust the Mogadishu warlords. The fighting in Mogadishu claimed the lives of many innocent people- a large number of them women and children and destroyed what little was left after the century-long civil strife.

In this fighting, Islamic courts had the upper hand due to the unequivocal support and the open-handedly assistance they have received from Mogadishu citizens. The disgraced warlords haphazardly fled from Mogadishu to every location they considered a safe haven. The people of Mogadishu have been captives-like to warlords for a period of over 15 years and this time seriously wanted to throw them out of Mogadishu for once and for good. This war -as some rightly call it a popular uprising by the people of Mogadishu and for the people of Mogadishu-eventually succeeded to take control of the warlords’ weapons and militias.

Premier Ali Gedi saw a golden opportunity to revenge the former warlords and dissident ministers who were opposing his government. Consequently, he gave a deadline for all cabinet ministers to go to Baidao or else face the consequences. Most of the government ministers reached Baidao timely except Mogadishu-based warlords. Premier Gedi added an insult to the injury of the warlords as he sacked them from the cabinet of the ministers.

Turning Mogadishu into a stable city

The UIC restored peace and order in almost all of the areas they have controlled including the capital city of Mogadishu. Militiamen and their checkpoints were moved from the streets of Mogadishu. The security of Mogadishu greatly improved during the six months time that UIC controlled the capital city. Generations of young men and women enjoyed the first time in their life the dividend of peace and freely moved without checkpoints and the escort of heavily-guarded militias. Also, the first time for over 15 years, the capital city came under a unified administration- a sign made Mogadishu a better place to live.

The removal of the warlords and their ousting was a milestone and a painful chapter of Somali history seemed to have been officially closed down. Unfortunately, the Ethiopian troops and the TFG are trying to empower the disgraced warlords once again to take control of their old constituency. Ever since the overthrow of former dictator Mohamed Ziyad Bare, warlords played havoc and destruction on Somalia. They were also an obstacle to any peaceful settlement initiated either by Somalis themselves or friendly/brotherly states.

After pacifying most of southern regions, the UIC has yet taken another very important step. In an attempt to ease the economic hardships of the citizens, the UIC re-opened Mogadishu’s national port and airfield. This was a very significant move and the UIC was categorized as the only administration that genuinely addressed the social needs. By turning Mogadishu and most of the southern Somalia into peaceful areas and putting the key infrastructure into functioning, the UIC earned the hearts and minds of almost all the residents of the capital city and beyond.

Dialogue Instigates

Despite of the increasing misunderstanding of the TFG and the UIC, accusations and counter accusations, they have accepted to have their dispute solved through negotiation table. To this end, the two parties agreed upon invitations sent by Sudanese president to go to Khartoum for dialogue. The two parties sent a very high profile delegation to the meeting. Negotiations started in a conducive atmosphere and kept this path all the way to the end. This climate enabled the two parties to reach a preliminary consensus and as a result, memorandum of understanding was signed by the two parties. As part of this agreement, further meeting was scheduled to be held to resume the dialogue and seriously discuss all binding issues.

In the aftermath of these negotiations, the UIC brought further districts and towns under their control and the TFG considered this move as a gross violation of the agreements signed by the two parties. The TFG also on their hand aggressively pursued their attempt to have foreign peace keeping forces in Somalia to secure government buildings and the transitional institutions. However, the courts considered this as acting against the mutual understanding of the two parties and accused the transitional government of bowing down to external pressure.

The gap between the two parties widened and even reached a point whereby it is said that courts are planning to attack and conquer Baidao. However, the UIC leaders ruled out any plan to attack Baidao but strongly condemned the Ethiopian government troops’ presence of Somali soil. They called on Ethiopia to leave the country and withdraw its troops.

Prime Minister Ali Gedi accused UIC of imposing harsh rule on the provinces they control and grossly violating human rights. These condemnations among others included tough interpretation of Islam, violations of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, intentional killings and murder. Regarding to this, Gedi pledged that his government would not travel to Sudan for negotiations due to the constant violation of human rights and the courts’ recurring breach of previous agreements. The top officers of the TFG, however, did not all shared such concerns.

After rigorous mediation tasks undertaken by the Arab League and mounting pressure was rested on the two parties by the far-sighted Somalis both in the Diaspora and in the home country, the two parties announced that they would attend the negotiation table. Consequently, the second round of negotiations opened in Khartoum under the auspices of the Arab League. The transitional government was represented in this meeting by a delegation led by the speaker of the parliament whereas the delegation of the Islamic Courts combined of civil society representatives, academics and Islamic scholars but all under the leadership of Islamic courts official.

What is worth to mention is the environment in which the dialogue convened. Around the 15 national conferences convened for Somalis, foreign mediators played an instrumental role to reach an agreement. In contrast, this time the Somali delegates alone and in the absence of foreign mediators discussed very challenging issues and to the surprise of every one reached a general understanding and consensus. The two negotiating delegations also pledged to attend the next round of talks which was scheduled to take place in Khartoum after 30 days.

Misunderstandings Emerge

At the initial stage when the courts took the control of Mogadishu, the TFG welcomed the new development in Mogadishu. However, as time elapses, the two parties could not conceal their differences. President Abdilahi Yusuf accused Islamic courts of getting military assistance from foreigners and terrorists who helped take over the full control of Mogadishu. The president blamed the courts using the Islamic hat to spread their influence. He emphasized the legitimacy of his government and the international recognition it enjoys. He therefore, called upon UIC to come under his administration.

Although UIC leaders did not hide their recognition towards the legitimacy of the TFG institutions and presidency of Abdilahi Yusuf, they were strongly opposing to the policy of the TFG particularly the deployment of foreign peace-keeping troops. In his inauguration speech, the interim president on his side appealed to the international community the deployment of peace-keeping troops and strongly advocated since then.

Islamic courts on their hand pursued an expansionist strategy to spread their influence to further areas. They attacked Jawhar town, a stronghold of Mohamed Dhere, former ally of Abdilahi Yusuf and his host. The UIC took control of the town without facing any viable resistance. The warlord, along with some of his militia, fled to Baidao, to seek refuge under the interim seat of the TFG. The people of Jawhar welcomed the courts and the UIC forces advanced to central regions of Somalia. From this point, the UIC expanded their influence dramatically by conquering most of the southern parts of Somalia. They have taken over the control of all major towns with the exception of the government’s temporary seat under the pretext that the residents of these towns extended to them an invitation to come.

The UIC expansionist policy even reached to relative stable towns such as the southern seaport town of Kismayo. The seizure of Kismayo made angry the TFG which lost a great ally and a member of the transitional cabinet. This has also created a war environment whereby the ousted warlord getting support and backing from the TFG and Ethiopia prepared a retaliation attack. However, this was resisted by the Islamic forces ruling the Lower Juba region.

The TFG on its hand pursued their demand for international peace keeping troops. This demand was one of the most controversial issues that sparked a bitter division among the TFG in several times. The UIC consistently opposed the whole idea of having foreign peace keeping forces in Somalia and vowed it would fight should they arrive in Somali territories. Yet, Abdilahi Yusuf and his government insisted their position despite of the controversy and dispute it has created. Further, the TFG has succeeded to convince some African countries to help the interim government stand firmly its feet on the ground by sending troops who secure the government institutions. This and the expansionist policy of UIC swerved the direction of the negotiation and the two parties put forward pre-conditions to be met for the dialogue to resume.

The external intervention intensified as the Security Council of the United Nations issued a resolution lifting the arms embargo to pave the way the foreign peace-keeping troops. The Security Council, however, exempted the neighboring countries to send their troops inside Somalia. The TFG eagerly welcomed this resolution while the UIC rebuffed it. Many people, however, believe that this resolution gave the Ethiopians the green- light to intervene the Somali crisis and as a result, Ethiopia consolidated its presence inside Somalia.

As the situation deteriorated, the two parties prepared for war. War sentiments and war oratory filled the air. At this stage, all the efforts to convince the two parties to resume the negotiation reached a deadlock. The Ethiopian troops crossed the border in their thousands and stationed in Puntland, Bay and Bakol regions in Southern Somalia. The UIC arranged their militias and started a jihad-like preparation in most of the areas they have controlled. Ethiopia and the TFG blindly denied the presence of Ethiopian troops inside Somalia. Later stage, the Ethiopian government would confess that it has military troops in Somalia who go there upon the request of the internationally-recognized transitional government.

War Breaks Out

Long before the full-fledged war between the UIC forces and military loyal to the TFG backed by the Ethiopian troops broke out, there were skirmishes in the front lines. However, after several days of shelling and counter shelling, an-all-out war broke out in Bay, Bakol, Hiran and southern Galka’ayo. After days of fierce fighting, each one claiming to have sustained his opponent a huge loss, the UIC have their troops withdrawn from the front lines, interpreting this move as war tactics.

It was apparent that Ethiopians have well-trained and better equipped military as well as superiority in military equipment when compared to the forces loyal to UIC, however, many expected a war that would last for a long time. Conversely, the TFG forces along with the Ethiopians prevailed over their opponents in no time. The fiercest resistance took place in Moode-Moode, Idaale and Daynuunay areas. After the fighting around Baidao, which each party claimed to have killed hundreds of their enemies, the UIC pulled out of their troops from the major towns. This has paved the road to the successive takeover of the victorious mixed troops of Ethiopians and the TFG forces.

The TFG and Ethiopian troops approached to Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia. The ruling UIC and their troops left the town to unknown destiny. This enabled the allied forces of the Ethiopians and the TFG forces to enter the capital city without resistance. In their last press conference in Mogadishu, the leaders of the UIC expressed how they were ready to respect the will of the Somali people and transferred power as to how the local people desire.

Ingredients of Failure

a) Incompatibility
On the other hand, little was known of the chemistry and composition of Islamic Courts. It was clear that members of Islamic courts and their leaders belonged to different religious denominations. They have just united their resources for one purpose-to fight against the warlords in Mogadishu. The leader of the union is said to be Sheikh Sharif Shiekh Ahmed, a 42 year old and a teacher by profession. The Libyan trained lawyer emerged to be moderate and get along with most of the people. He turned to be a man with great articulation and managed to earn the admiration of many civilians through his countless interviews and speeches. The admiration of this young leader reached to a point whereby a prominent Somali Website “Hiiraan Online” named him as the man of the year “2006”. Many, however, believed that Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweis, the former leader of Al-Itihad religious denomination was the real man who steers the UIC activities. Sh. Dahir Aweys a former military colonel was heading Al-Itihad religious group when they attempted to seize the control of North Eastern regions through the barrel of gun.

Similarly, many political analysts defined UIC as a loose grouping that comprised of different groups of people with different religious ideologies. These include Islamic hardliners, reformists, members of Al-Islaax movement, civil society members and Jihadists. Adan Hashi Ayro, a young Somali in his mid thirties and reportedly trained in Afghanistan was said to be leading jihadist Shabaab sect. Yusuf Ziyad Indhacade, the former ruler of Lower Shabele, held very high profile post which is the head of security of UIC. Indha’Ade is counted as one of the most hardliners and the most controversial figures of UIC leaders. Through their abusing speeches, these two and their likes within the UIC failed to gain the hearts and minds of the local people and instead created hostility and enmity for the UIC. For instance, Sh. Hassan Turki, made a speech in Kismayo town after it has fallen to UIC troops. He publicly announced the intention of UIC leaders which was to expand their influence as far as Somaliland. He even pledged that his troops would triumph over Puntland and Somaliland should they attempt to stop them.

b)Hasty Decisions
On the social aspect, they have taken certain steps that many people considered as hasty moves. For instance, the restriction imposed on the freedom of the people was widely seen as something that would backfire the popularity of the UIC. Restrictions imposed on social gatherings as well as the ban of world cup tournaments greatly distorted the reputation of the UIC.

In economic terms, they banned the trade of the Qat which is n stimulant element widely used in Somalia. The ban of Qat has without doubt its countless implications in terms of financial, health, and social aspects. Many people, however, argued that before issuing jurisdictions forbidding its trade, a broad-based and carefully- defined policy was required in order to address the problems that stem from Qat. Many academics argued that Qat is a liability to the national economy and has a negative impact on social and health to its users. Yet, as widespread unemployment prevails in the country, many people depend on it for their daily earnings. These are mostly orphans and female bread-winners. In short, many people fiercely opposed this move and even expressed their disapproval through demonstrations. The truth is that UIC lost a lot of supporters and sympathizers due to is move.

c)Poor Diplomacy
Most of the UIC leaders lack the vision and experience to plan and lead a nation. They were just religious scholars who mobilized Mogadishu residents to resist against the warlords. What they lacked is the skill and expertise to run a country with established institutions let alone a country struggling to emerge from chaos and disarray. In the meantime Ethiopians and the TFG were coordinating the logistical and necessary preparatory arrangements to launch an-all-out war on UIC militia, the UIC and its military commanders acted in a manner that naked of diplomacy. They announced that they will launch a jihad against Ethiopia and failed to convince their cause to the friendly and neighboring countries.

The courts would have consistently demanded that Ethiopia withdraws its troops from Somalia. In the meantime, they would have attempted to gather diplomatic support from the countries in the region and beyond as well the regional bodies such as IGAD, Arab League etc. Instead and to the surprise of even their sympathizers, they have given an ultimatum to Ethiopia to have its troops withdrawn from Somalia or else face the consequence. Although the UIC leaders withdrawn this deadline, yet many countries interpreted this as a declaration of war.

d)Internal Divisions
It is now apparent that the UIC leaders were not in agreement with the war plan. Some elements within the UIC deliberately started the war without the consultation of their colleagues. As reliable sources indicate, UIC representatives were having dialogue with external intermediaries when the war broke out- a strong clue that indicates the decision to go to war was taken by some extremist elements within the UIC.

The mystery, however, is the absence of Yusuf Indhacade from the country. Yusuf Indhacade, being the man who gave Ethiopians the seven day ultimatum left the country shortly before the war broke out as reliable sources confirmed. His absence, as a strong proponent of “Jihad” against Ethiopia, left concerns and speculations among the Somalis. However, the fact that he was away from the country when Somalia was at war in which many citizens held him responsible leaves his loyalty and rhetoric under question.

Despite of all these shortcomings and limitations, the reasonable Somalis would agree that UIC managed to restore peace and stability to the regions they controlled- an attempt many including the super powers failed to realize. Similarly, UIC would be remembered for chasing away the notorious warlords from Mogadishu and re-opening the key infrastructures. On the other hand, they would also be remembered for their attempt to restrict the personal freedoms.


Somalia is now going through a very sensitive stage and it badly needs visionary leadership and pragmatic policies to be managed its state of affairs. The TFG’s top officers who now control most of the country are required to carefully think the current critical situation and handle the country’s affairs in a manner of far-sightedness and statesmanship. The following steps could save the country from descending into further violence and anarchy.

In an effort to seek the genuine reconciliation, the TFG must be engaged in a grass-root reconciliation that involves all segments of the society be it religious leaders, remnants of UIC forces and supporters, civil society groups and former military officers.

The TFG should issue a pardon for the forces loyal to the defeated UIC and those qualified enough must be incorporated with the TFG police and military forces after they are trained.

As part of the reconciliation program, the TFG must start serious and authentic dialogue with the remnants of the UIC leaders and the moderate ones should be involved in post-war administration. TFG must not rule out the possibility of having a dialogue with the leaders of the UIC in order a government of national to be installed.

Ethiopia must withdraw its troops from the country within the shortest period possible. TFG top officers must realize the with the assistance of foreign troops, they will not be able to impose peace and tranquility upon Somalis should they fail to earn the trust and credibility of their people

Limited peace-keeping forces with the exception of front line states must be stationed at the important infrastructure, government buildings and checkpoints to help the efforts to restore peace and stability

The Government must not attempt to disarm Mogadishu residents through the use of gun point. The disarmament program must be carefully planed and the local people must be involved in the process. Also, it must be simultaneously carried out throughout the TFG controlled areas.

The disgraced and defeated warlords must not be empowered once again. They must not be allowed to play any further havoc on the country in which they turned to the land of lawlessness and mayhem .
Abdirahman Adan Mohamoud
Freelance Writer

This is my personal view and therefore it will not be attributed to the position/point of view of any organization/group of individuals that I am associated with in any way

No comments: