Home > 2003-2007 from USA, Somalia > Somalis welcome ‘defeat’ of warlords by Islamist militias

Somalis welcome ‘defeat’ of warlords by Islamist militias

June 7, 2006

By Andrew England in Nairobi and Guy Dinmore in Washington

Published: June 7 2006

After Islamic militias claimed to have seized control of Mogadishu from an alliance of warlords, allegedly supported by the US, initial reports from the chaotic Somali capital yesterday seemed to suggest that many Somalis would welcome their apparent victory.

For 15 years, competing, clan-based factions had run the war-ravaged city, dividing it into mini-fiefdoms, running exploitation rackets and ruling through fear and the power of the gun.

A victory for the militias aligned to Mogadishu’s Islamic courts raised the possibility of an end to the warlords’ reign and a chance for a united – if not monolithic – group to control the city for the first time since dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

In an FT interview yesterday, Mohamed Ali Gedi, prime minister in the country’s impotent transitional government, said his expectations were “extremely positive”, adding that his administration hoped to enter into dialogue with the Islamists.

“It was a popular uprising with all the stakeholders who have defeated the warlords, who have obstructed peace and stability in Somalia for the last 15 years,” Mr Gedi said by telephone. “The Somali people are fed up with fighting, nobody is ready to continue with conflict and war.”

Despite Mr Gedi’s positive words, the transitional government, which is secular, remains weak and divided, forced to sit in Baidoa, a small central town, because it is not safe for it to move to Mogadishu.

Even if the Islamists have genuinely defeated the warlords’ alliance after months of fighting, huge questions remain about whether they will remain united and if the violence will finally end.

“People supported the courts against the faction leaders because they were fed up with the years of violence, but that does not mean they are going to approve of everything the courts do now or support them ideologically,” said one analyst. “The courts have to administer the city and it’s a lot harder than fighting. Now they have to deal with political and clan issues.”

If they do remain united and retain control of the capital, the Islamists, who say they want to create an Islamic state to end the years of bloodshed and chaos, will represent the most significant group the transitional government would have to deal with.

Despite its crumbling state, Mogadishu, with the country’s main ports, is by far the most important city, economically and symbolically. A united Islamist group would also represent the most important change in the dynamics of Somalia since a United Nations force withdrew in 1995, and drastically hamper US efforts to track down those in the capital it suspects of involvement in terrorism.

A key issue would be whether moderates would come to the fore, or whether the extremist minority, deemed crucial to the battlefield success, would continue to have influence. The battles between the Islamists and the warlords erupted this year after faction leaders formed an alliance they claimed was fighting under the banner of anti-terrorism.

Islamic organisations have operated in Mogadishu for years, providing schools and other services in the absence of a functioning state.

But analysts say some courts had become dominated by a small, but well-organised, extremist minority who used the perception of US support for the warlords to increase the Islamists’ public support.

In Texas, President George W. Bush said the first concern of the US was to make sure that Somalia did not become a safe haven for al-Qaeda.

“So we’re watching very carefully developments there,” he said, without giving any indication of what the US intended to do about the capture of Mogadishu.

The State Department said the US had an “interest” in combating the presence of “foreign terrorists” in the Horn of Africa, but did not elaborate. Pressed on widespread reports that the US financed the alliance of warlords that was defeated in Mogadishu, Sean McCormack, the department spokesman, would only say the US worked with a variety of individuals and groups in Somalia.

US officials say a policy review is taking place in Washington, but refuse to comment on America’s role in the crisis, amid mounting criticism of US policy.

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