Oct 16, 2006

Somaliland: War Clouds Loom over Somalia as Military Fronts Open Up

The mobilization for armed resistance of the opponents to the Islamic Courts Council's bid to establish an Islamic state in Somalia throughout the country is raising the probability of civil and regional war, analyst says.

Below is an abstract of an article published on the Power and Interest News Report’s Website. Wrote by Dr. Michael A. Weinstein it underlines the arising tensions in Somaliland and their likely impacts on Somaliland.


During the first two weeks of October, conflict in the stateless country of Somalia entered a new phase as opponents to the Islamic Courts Council's (I.C.C.) bid to establish an Islamic state in Somalia mobilized for armed resistance throughout the country, raising the probability of civil and regional war.

The event that triggered the increased militarization of the conflict was the I.C.C.'s peaceful takeover on September 24 of the key seaport of Kismayo in Somalia's deep south and its inroads into the southern regions of Middle and Lower Jubba. These takeovers gave the Courts movement preponderant control of all Somalia south of the border of the breakaway sub-state of Puntland, with the exception of the southwestern Gedo region bordering Kenya and Ethiopia, and the area in the south-central Bay region surrounding the town of Baidoa -- the seat of Somalia's feeble but internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) that is protected by Ethiopian troops.

The I.C.C.'s successful entry into Somalia's deep south signaled to the other domestic and external actors involved in Somalia's conflict that the Courts movement was on the brink of achieving indisputable power, leading to the judgment that there was only a small window of opportunity either to repulse the Courts through force of arms or to exert sufficient pressure to bring the I.C.C. and T.F.G. into a power-sharing deal through diplomacy.

As the sense of "now or never" seized all the players, points of tension began to resemble military fronts and tests of arms broke out. Western and local analysts and regional and domestic political leaders raised the specter of war, often projecting doomsday scenarios and floating conspiracy theories. Whenever the possibility of war draws near, propaganda becomes more extreme and disinformation abounds, rendering predictive intelligence more difficult to achieve. Cutting through the war fever in Somalia, it is still too early to forecast armed civil and regional conflict. No actor has an unambiguous interest in a war, yet all actors believe that they must be prepared for one. Whether any player will make a decisive move remains to be seen.

With resistance to its revolutionary momentum mounting, the I.C.C. has endeavored to centralize and consolidate its authority in the areas under its control. On September 29, the I.C.C. announced that it was creating a unified Islamic military force that would transcend clan affiliations and bring disparate Court militias under a single command. On October 5, the I.C.C. made good on its pledge to set up a centralized Islamic administration, inaugurating an Upper Islamic Council to unify local authorities. The head of the Courts' Shura (consultative and policymaking) Council, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, announced that "the courts will become officially unified into one court, which will lead the country by determining what is right and what is wrong."

Although centralization of I.C.C. authority is far from being realized, the I.C.C. began the process by instituting a single court for the Banadir region, which includes Somalia's official capital Mogadishu. The I.C.C. announced that similar administrations would soon be set up in the Middle and Lower Shabelle regions. On September 30, the I.C.C. had taken over official control of Lower Shabelle from its Courts-affiliated former warlord Yusuf Indha Ade, who was co-opted into the I.C.C. as its director of security. On October 14, the I.C.C. peacefully gained authority over the town of Barawe in Lower Shabelle -- the last area that had resisted the Courts in the region.

Moves by the I.C.C. to create a unified armed force and a centralized administration amount to the institution of a governing apparatus that competes directly with the clan-based T.F.G. Aweys and the head of the I.C.C.'s Executive Council, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, have made it plain that the Courts movement will not share power within the T.F.G.'s clan-based constitution and will only accept an Islamic state that brings together all Somalis under a formula of religious nationalism. […] As the I.C.C. moved to institutionalize its revolution, it faced resistance at every turn from its opponents, forcing it to go on war footing on fronts throughout Somalia.

The Emergence of Military Fronts

The highest probability for armed conflict between the I.C.C. and its opponents is in Somalia's deep south -- the Middle and Lower Jubba regions -- where the Courts movement faces a counter-attack to retake Kismayo by militias led by the city's former chief warlord, Col. Barre "Hirale" Adan Shire, who is also the T.F.G.'s defense minister.

In moving on Kismayo, the I.C.C. had violated its policy of only entering an area after it had negotiated an agreement with local clerics and warlords and was assured that it would be well received. The Courts movement broke with its successful pattern in order to head off a possible African peacekeeping mission that would enter Somalia across its border with Kenya and would be supplied through Kismayo. The city was controlled by a loose coalition of warlords -- the Jubba Valley Alliance (J.V.A.) -- that was divided by factions and constituencies favoring a deal with the I.C.C. and opponents of an agreement led by Hirale. Although Hirale and his forces fled Kismayo when the I.C.C. moved in, the city remained divided and Hirale did not acquiesce in defeat.

Although the I.C.C. acted quickly to establish an administration in Kismayo, it was immediately faced with a series of violent street demonstrations against its rule that resulted in one death and scores of arrests. The most serious protest was a rare night demonstration on October 7 in which hundreds of people burned tires, hurled stones and vandalized shops, impelling I.C.C. forces to fire on the crowd. Whereas previous demonstrations had reportedly been organized by traders in khat -- a mild stimulant drug that the I.C.C. had banned during Ramadan -- the October 7 protest was mounted by disaffected clans that complained that the new I.C.C. administration had been formed without consultation, included officials from outside the city and was unrepresentative.[…]

As tensions rose in the deep south, west and center of Somalia, the northern regions of the country controlled by the sub-states of Puntland and Somaliland came under pressure from the I.C.C. and responded by tightening security measures. Both sub-states have functioning administrations and military forces, and both are allied to Addis Ababa, but there are also sectors of their societies that are favorable to the I.C.C. and would like to see Islamic courts installed in the north.

With the goal of unifying Somalia in an Islamic state, the I.C.C. has attempted to stir up pro-Courts sentiment in the sub-states and has reportedly been training forces from the northern regions in Mogadishu that would infiltrate into the those regions to support popular bids to set up Islamic courts in them.

Most directly threatened by I.C.C. penetration, Puntland's President Mohamud "Adde" Muse issued an unprecedented decree on September 27 banning all aliens from entering Puntland from the south and threatening deportation of at least some of the several hundred thousand southern Somalis who already reside in the sub-state and form an important part of its economy. Muse also warned I.C.C. sympathizers from Puntland not to collaborate with the Courts movement in an attempted takeover of the sub-state.[…]

More insulated from the I.C.C., Somaliland, which is in the far north and does not share a border with Courts-controlled territories, came under unaccustomed pressure from the Courts movement during the first half of October.

On September 29, Somaliland's deputy justice minister, Yusuf Ise Duale Tallaabo, warned the I.C.C. against trying to realize the "dream of capturing Hargeisa [Somaliland's capital]" and told Somalilanders to reject "a new prophet" from Mogadishu. Tallaabo's statement was prompted by the presence of Somaliland's prominent Islamist cleric Sheikh Ali Warsame in Mogadishu, where he was thought to be strategizing with the I.C.C. on plans to set up Islamic courts in the sub-state. Warsame was a founder of the radical Islamist organization al-Ittihad al-Islami (A.I.A.I.) that pre-dated the I.C.C., has been linked by Washington to al-Qaeda and included among its leaders the I.C.C.'s major power figure, Sheikh Aweys.

Somaliland's administration encountered domestic opposition after the release of a videotape allegedly showing the torture by Somaliland authorities of Islamist cleric Sheikh Mohamed Ismail who had been arrested on charges of terrorism. On October 1, there was a demonstration in Hargeisa protesting Ismail's alleged mistreatment, in which 56 protestors were arrested. Somaliland authorities claimed that the videotape was a fabrication produced by the Puntland administration, with which Hargeisa has territorial disputes. Somaliland's president, Dahir Riyale Kahin, who is constrained to keep Puntland and the I.C.C. at bay, reiterated his position that Somaliland would not rejoin Somalia, but would discuss cooperation when a stable government was formed in the south. Distancing himself from Puntland and Ethiopia, Riyale stated that he was not opposed to the I.C.C. as long as it stayed out of Somaliland and called for non-interference of external powers in Somalia's conflicts.

Riyale's moderate tone did not prevent a strong response to the Ismail affair from the I.C.C. Military commander Turki pledged that the I.C.C. would free all religious prisoners in Puntland and Somaliland, and said: "We will forcefully free Sheikh Mohamed from Somaliland if it does not release him immediately."

More reverberations from Ismail's jailing came on October 10, when 13 Muslim scholars in Hargeisa called for an independent investigation of prison torture, the release from jail of demonstrators arrested in protests triggered by the torture video, and the institution of Shari'a law in Somaliland. The scholars group hailed the I.C.C. for the restoration of security in southern Somalia and for implementing Shari'a law, but urged the Courts movement not to "create discord" in Somaliland.

A military confrontation between the Somaliland administration and the I.C.C. is distant, but the events of early October show that the sub-state is being drawn into the wider conflict and faces an internal opposition sympathetic to the Courts movement. Long considered stable and insulated from the rest of Somalia, Somaliland has now been brought into play and would likely be drawn into any major military conflict in the north in order to defend itself from Puntland and from the I.C.C.[…]

The key factor in the current military situation in Somalia is the presence of Ethiopia on all the emerging fronts. As PINR has argued, the basic conflict in Somalia is between the I.C.C. and Addis Ababa, neither of which seems to be eager to wage war, despite suggestions by analysts that Addis Ababa would gain Washington's approval and a resumption of economic aid if it defeated the I.C.C., and that the Courts would gain an infusion of domestic support from a wave of anti-Ethiopian nationalist sentiment if armed conflict broke out.

The difficulties that would be faced by Addis Ababa if it mounted a major military operation in Somalia were indicated by reports that senior Ethiopian military officers had been arrested for opposing a campaign against the I.C.C. Local media also reported that the Ethiopian government was making large cash payments to officers in return for pledges to attack the I.C.C.

The probability of civil and regional war is higher than it was before the I.C.C. took Kismayo, but, at present, armed conflicts, if they occur, are likely to be localized. There is, however, a sense among the players in Somalia's conflicts that war is now a genuine possibility and that judgment should not be discounted. […]


As points of tension develop into possible military fronts throughout Somalia […] the clouds of war gather over the country. At present, the intentions of the major players -- the I.C.C. and Ethiopia -- remain unclear and are probably not fixed, as each side tests the other's resolve and attempts to strengthen alliances.

It is most likely that none of the actors is certain of its next moves, which both makes them cautious and increases the probability that one of them will miscalculate and precipitate a spiraling armed conflict. Revolutions spawn counter-revolutionary initiatives, and the I.C.C.'s attempt to effect an Islamic revolution is no exception.

Somalia has moved closer to the brink of war, but major armed conflict is not yet inevitable