Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Somalia Transitional Federal Government Under Siege As Opposition Takes More Territory

Somalia Transitional Federal Government Under Siege as Opposition Takes More Territory

Despite U.S. support the new regime has lost control of large areas of the country including Mogadishu

by Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
News Analysis

A newly reconfigured Transitional Federal Government established during early 2009 in Somalia has loss control of large areas of the country to the al-Shabab and Hisbul Islam resistance organizations. On May 17 and 18, the towns of Jowhar and Mahaday, north of the capital Mogadishu, fell to al-Shabab.

These developments represent a tremendous blow to the TFG headed by Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who was brought into the governing coalition after previously serving as one of the important leaders of the Union of Islamic Courts (ICU). The ICU has split over support of the government headed by President Ahmed, who was a moderate figure in the alliance of organizations that took control of large sections of the country prior to the Ethiopian invasion and occupation in December 2006.

The ICU fought against the Ethiopian intervention which was encouraged, financed and orchestrated by the United States. With the intensification of fighting and the efforts of the U.S. to broker a peace settlement in the country, the al-Shabab youth wing of the IUC, took over leadership in the fighting against the Ethiopian military and refused to enter into the new TFG because of its alliance with the U.S. and the continued presence of African Union troops from Uganda and Burundi in Mogadishu.

Ethiopian troops pulled out of Somalia in January and the initial policy of the Ahmed government was to seek reconciliation with al-Shabab and the recently formed Hisbul Islam. However, in recent weeks, the TFG has called upon Somalis to support the government and take up arms against the resistance groups which the U.S. has labelled as al-Qaeda affiliates.

Garowe Online reported that on April 13 Col. Omar Hashi Adan, who is an ally of President Ahmed and served as a former commander of the militias of the ICU, spoke to supporters stating that "government troops are expected to wage war on the opposition who are still fighting in Mogadishu and other parts of the country and who have refused to accept the peace." (Garowe Online May 15)

On April 18 fighting erupted between remnants of the ICU, who have served as the dwindling backbone of military support to the TFG, and al-Shabab forces in southern Mogadishu. A residence that reportedly housed al-Shabab fighters was bombed. In response Sheikh Mohamad Mohamud Jimale, a military supporter of the TFG, was gunned down.

During the last week of April, another former ICU leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who heads the Eritrean-based Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia(ARSA) and represents the most significant component of the Hizbul Islam, returned to Mogadishu after being in exile during the Ethiopian occupation. The TFG claimed that Aweys' return was aimed at seeking reconciliation with the Ahmed government.

However, on April 25, Aweys articulated his view of the current situation in Somalia. He stated that his supporters did not recognize the TFG due to the fact that it was "not a sovereign government and is commanded by foreign powers. (Garowe Online, May 15)

According to "Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, the founder of the Islamic Courts Union, whose ambition is to introduce a Taliban-style Islamic state in Somalia, told the local media on Friday May 15 that he returned to the country to combine the insurgents under one leadership, to pull the African Union troops out of the country through fighting and to solve all the differences among Somalis." (, May 15)

Also on May 16, the United States and the United Nations accused the Eritrean government of supplying arms to the resistance fighters in Somalia. The Obama administration's top State Department official on African Affairs Jonnie Carson told the BBC that there was evidence that suggested Eritrea was providing weapons and munitions to al-Shabab.

Nonetheless, the Eritrean ambassador to the UN, Araya Desta, rejected the charges saying the U.S./UN claims were "rubbish and that this is totally false." (BBC, May 16)

Desta stated in the BBC interview that "Why do we have to support factions in Somalia? This accusation is always cooked by some neighboring countries and some big powers in order to defame Eritrea. How do they know that Eritrea has sent weapons to Somalia, through which areas have these planes flown?"

Desta continued by pointing out that "As you know the American army is in Djibouti, the French are in Djibouti and they control everything in the sea as well as in the land."

A Washington Post Foreign Service article on May 18 addressed the precarious nature of the current regime in Somalia. The report by Stephanie McCrummen says that "Ahmed's government, while popular with many Somalis, directly controls only Mogadishu's airport, its seaport and a small corner of the ruined city where the presidential palace is fortified by 4,000 African Union peacekeepers in something akin to Baghdad's Green Zone. Ahmed has remained sequestered there for most of the past week." (WP, May 18)

The article continues claiming that "'Things look bad for the government,' said one Somali analyst in Mogadishu, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by rebels, who are quick to assassinate critics. He said it would be a 'disaster' if the rebels took over."

The 'Anti-Piracy' Campaign

In the United States, the government has pledged to pursue the prosecution of a 16-year-old Somali national who was taken into custody by the Navy in the aftermath of a failed negotiated settlement aimed at the release of the Danish-owned and U.S.-flaged Maersk Alabama. Three other Somalis were killed by the Navy after they sought to negotiate an end to the vessel seizure on April 12.

Abdiwali Muse was charged on April 21 with piracy and four other counts that include conspiracy to commit hostage-taking. Muse is being held in custody in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan.

U.S. Magistrate Andrew Peck completely dismissed the defense argument that Muse is a juvenile and declared without any evidence that he is 18 and must be tried as an adult under slave-era laws developed during the 19th century.

Muse, who could face life in prison if convicted, has gained the support of the Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST) youth organization which has issued a statement in his defense. The mother of Muse has appealed to the Obama administration to release her son because she claims that he is child that was misled by his colleagues.

In a similar case in the Netherlands where five Somalis are being prosecuted for alleged "piracy", defense lawyers have described the defendants as modern day "Robin Hoods." The government of the Netherlands has agreed to prosecute them under a 17th-century law against "sea robbery" due to the fact that the vessel, the Sumanyulo, was registered in the Dutch-controlled Caribbean. (Associated Press, May 18)

Also the European Union (EU) has pledged to expand its naval presence in the Indian Ocean around the Seychelles islands, some 1,100 miles off the coast of Somalia. "We see that the pirates are extending their activities into the Indian Ocean, so the area around the Seychelles should be included in the operation," said German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung while speaking before a gathering of EU foreign and defense ministers. (Associated Press, May 18)

A EU flotilla, accompanied by both NATO and U.S. ships have formed a task force to patrol the Gulf of Aden where most of the vessel seizures have taken place. The EU segment of the operation is the first Naval operation launched by the 27 member-country organization in its history.

The United States Navy has increased its presence as well in the waters off the Horn of Africa. Other efforts are underway to establish a so-called "piracy tribunal" in the U.S.-backed nation of Kenya in east Africa.

These efforts by U.S. imperialism and its allies are designed to continue plans to take control of the Horn of Africa including Somalia. Utilizing the pretext of fighting "terrorism" on land and "piracy" at sea, the U.S. administration under Obama is maintaining the same foreign policy as the previous government headed by George Bush which targeted Somalia and the region of east Africa for regime change and the establishment of a permanent military presence in this geo-political area of the African continent.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. The writer has written extensively on political developments in the Horn of Africa over the last two years.

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