Thursday, December 28, 2006

Somali War Update: Ethiopian Troops Enter Mogadishu Amid Fears of Broader Conflict in Region

Somali government troops enter capital Mogadishu

Thu. Dec. 28 2006 10:40 AM ET

Somali troops entered the nation's capital Mogadishu on Thursday, hours after their Islamist rivals abandoned the city.

"We are in Mogadishu," Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi said after meeting with local clan leaders to discuss the handover of power.

"We are co-ordinating our forces to take control of Mogadishu."

Looting erupted and gunfire echoed as the militiamen for the Somalia Islamic Courts Council, which tried to establish a government based on Islam, fled their base.

Meanwhile, hundreds of militiamen who had backed the Islamist faction showed they had switched allegiance by taking off their uniforms.

"We will capture Mogadishu any time within the coming hours," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told The Associated Press, adding that the country was in a state of emergency.
"We are now at the entry points of the city."

Earlier, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said officials had been discussing how to keep Mogadishu from descending into chaos.

"We will not let Mogadishu burn," Meles told reporters in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian and Somali government troops advanced on the capital from the north and the west, capturing the country's most important airfield and driving Islamic fighters out of Jowhar, the last major town on the road leading to Mogadishu.

Somali officer Col. Ahmed Omar said that Ethiopian troops would stop advancing on Mogadishu but that government forces would approach the capital.

Islamists said they had left Mogadishu but vowed they would not give up without a fight.

Residents south of the city told AP that Islamist forces were headed south toward the port city of Kismayo, their last remaining stronghold.

One former Islamic fighter who quit Thursday, Yusuf Ibrahim, said about 3,000 fighters had left for Kismayo, some 500 kilometres to the south.

Abdirahman Janaqow, a senior leader, told AP he ordered his forces out of the capital to avoid bloodshed.

"We decided to leave Mogadishu because of the safety of the civilians," Janaqow said. "We want to face our enemy and their stooges in a separate area, away from civilians."

President Abdullahi Yusuf was expected to offer the clans a truce later Thursday.

Somalia's complex clan system has formed the basis of the country's politics and identity for centuries.

But clan infighting has prevented Somalia from having an effective government since clan-based warlords ousted longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, thrusting the country into anarchy.

Two years ago, the United Nations helped set up the interim government. But until the past week, it had little influence outside of its seat in the city of Baidoa, in part because it had been weakened by clan rivalries.

The Council of Islamic Courts seized Mogadishu in June after chasing U.S.-backed warlords from the city in June and went on to take much of southern Somalia.

They were later joined by foreign militants, including Pakistanis and Arabs, who supported their goal of making Somalia an Islamic state.

While many Somalis appeared to welcome the law and order that came when the militiamen imposed Islamic law, others rejected the strict enforcement of Islamic codes.

The Islamists appeared to be unbeatable after seizing the capital, but they have been no match for Ethiopia, which has the strongest military in the Horn of Africa.

On Sunday, Ethiopia sent fighter jets streaking deep into militia-held areas to help Somalia's UN-recognized government push back the Islamists.

Ethiopia's prime minister has said that his country was "forced to enter a war" with the Council of Islamic Courts after the group declared holy war on Ethiopia, a largely Christian country that has feared the emergence of a neighbouring Islamic state.

The Islamists' depiction of the conflict with Ethiopia as a holy war taps into popular anti-Ethiopian sentiment stirred by decades of hostility between the two neighbouring nations.

"Ethiopia and Somalia have been traditional enemies and the movement of Ethiopia into Somalia will give the impression that the traditional government is the puppet of Ethiopia, the enemy, and that is the problem," Carleton University African Studies professor Daniel Osabu-Kle told CTV Newsnet.

The United States, which accuses the Islamists of harbouring al Qaeda terrorists, has been keeping a close eye on the conflict.

But the Islamists are not necessarily aligned with al Qaeda, Osabu-Kle said.

"I think that is a misinformation because Somalis are Africans and the al Qaedas are a Sunni-Arab organization and it is very difficult for Somalis to become a branch of al Qaeda," he said.

"Islamic nationalism is misinterpreted in the West to be aligned with al Qaeda, which is not necessarily so."

With files from The Associated Press
Copyright 2006 CTV Inc.

Somalia Conflict Sparks East Africa Terror Fears

By Patrick Goodenough Managing Editor
December 28, 2006

( - Islamic radicals wanting to bring international pressure to bear on the fighting in Somalia -- where Ethiopian forces are trouncing Islamists -- may target Western facilities in East Africa for suicide bombings, a U.S.-based Somali campaigner warned Wednesday.

Terrorists hoped such attacks would "engulf the whole region" and increase the likelihood that bodies like the Arab League and European Union would intervene and cut short the rout of the Islamists, said Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center.

Jamal said by phone from Minnesota that many Somalis desperate for stability after 16 years of conflict had welcomed the arrival of the Islamists known as the Islamic Court Union (ICU) when they seized control of Mogadishu last June by ousting an alliance of warlords and businessmen.

He said the ICU, not all of whose members were extremists, had initially declared itself willing to hold peace talks with Somalia's embattled interim authority -- the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which was set up under a process supported by the U.N. and is based in the Somali town of Baidoa because of the anarchy prevailing in the capital.

But the opportunity to restore order and reach agreement with the TFG had been lost, Jamal said, when ICU radicals connected to global terror networks started to push an agenda of enforcing Islamic law (shari'a) and promoting jihad.

Those radicals, he said, "were getting funding from the Middle East, getting funding from Saudi Arabia, and they hijacked the peace process, and they want to achieve their political goals through very violent means."

Acting in support of the TFG, neighboring Ethiopia then sent in armed forces that in recent days have claimed victories against the Islamists and are reported to be advancing on Mogadishu, the main ICU stronghold.

Echoing a concern long raised by counter-terrorism experts, Jamal said Somalia had offered an attractive haven for al-Qaeda after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban militia sheltering Osama bin Laden's network in Afghanistan following 9/11.

Somalia was an obvious destination, he said, recalling that Somali radicals such as ICU founder Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys had ties to bin Laden going back to when the Saudi terrorist was based in Sudan in the 1990s.

Al-Qaeda and its allies had made their presence felt in the region before, Jamal noted, citing the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings, attacks against Israeli targets in Kenya in 2002 and the 2000 bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, across the Aden Gulf.

Jamal expressed hope that the Ethiopians would succeed in defeating the Islamists and then withdraw, and that the TFG -- aided by the international community -- would then be able to assert its authority across the entire country.

Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council authorized a regional peacekeeping force whose aim would be to help bolster the transitional government.

The Arab League Wednesday added its voice to calls for all foreign elements to withdraw from Somalia. Similar demands have come from the African Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, although the issue continues to divide the U.N. Security Council, and the U.S. government has signaled sympathy for Ethiopia's "security concerns."

Apart from the Ethiopian forces fighting against the Islamists, Eritrea is also believed to have sent in several thousand troops to support the ICU, and volunteer fighters from various Muslim and Arab states are reported to have entered the country to fight alongside the Islamists, too.

Terrorism specialist Douglas Farah warned in an article posted online Wednesday that even if the Ethiopian forces defeat the Islamists, "Somalia is already viewed by much of the Islamist community as another attempt to establish the beginnings of the Caliphate."

"Foreign fighters, along with the Somalis, will likely prolong the fight through guerrilla warfare long into the future," he predicted.

"The whole Horn of Africa is now in danger of a spreading war that can, in the end, only help those who profit from chaos and unaccountability."

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