Monday, April 14, 2008

Somalia = Iraq?

The following comments from a perceptive review of the situation in Somalia by Newsweek shines light on how foreign intervention can complicate local politics and generate undesired results.

In late 2006 the United States backed Ethiopia's incursion into
Somalia, designed to oust the Islamic Courts Union, the Islamist coalition that had taken over much of the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country. (Al-Shabaab was the Courts' military wing.) Washington accused the Islamists of harboring Qaeda operatives involved in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania. But the Courts had also brought more stability than Somalia had enjoyed in years. Somalis could walk the streets and do business again, and many welcomed the Islamists just as war-weary Afghans hailed the Taliban in the 1990s.

Now, by trying to prevent another terrorist haven like Afghanistan from developing, America may have helped create another Iraq, this
one in the volatile Horn of Africa. "Every year this fighting continues, the situation worsens," says Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Abdul Salaam of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government. The Islamists' eviction in 2006 left a power vacuum that the U.N.
government still hasn't managed to fill. Ethiopian troops are loathed as occupiers and rarely leave their heavily fortified bases. And al-Shabaab has broken off from the Courts to wage a brutal and effective insurgency. The guerrillas have overrun at least eight Somali towns this year and control parts of the capital. Where once they brought order to Somalia, they now gleefully spread chaos.

Mogadishu looks like Baghdad during its darker days. Thousands of Ethiopian soldiers are hunkered down behind sandbags, concrete
barriers and heavy artillery. Whenever they go out on patrol, their heavily armored convoys are blasted by roadside bombs, rockets and small arms fire. In recent weeks, al-Shabaab has stepped up a suicide-bombing campaign; an attack last week targeted a compound housing African Union peacekeepers, wounding nine and killing one. Leaflets warning of death to government collaborators likewise recall Iraq.

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