Somalia in mid-November: Sparring and Waiting for Someone to Strike

Posted in Africa | 13-Nov-06 | Author: Michael Weinstein

After September 24, when the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.) peacefully gained control over the strategic port city of Kismayo in Somalia's deep south and extended its reach over the southern regions of Middle and Lower Jubba, the conflicts in that stateless country sharpened and broadened into a looming armed confrontation between the I.C.C. and Ethiopia. The I.C.C. seeks to unite Somalia in an Islamic state, while Ethiopia is determined to prevent that outcome and supports the Courts' rival, the Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), which is structured by a clan-based constitution.

The I.C.C.'s takeover of Kismayo signaled to every actor interested in Somalia that the Courts had crossed a tipping point and were poised to gain irreversible momentum. With the impotent T.F.G. isolated in the town of Baidoa in the southwestern Bay region and surrounded by the I.C.C. on the north, east and south, Addis Ababa sent troops in from the west to protect the T.F.G. This action militarized the conflict and forced the I.C.C. to devote its primary efforts to recruiting fighters and mobilizing its militias for war.

Fronts opened up not only around Baidoa, but throughout Somalia -- in the south, where Col. Barre Hirale, the ousted warlord of Kismayo, moved to regain control over the Jubba regions; in the central Galgadud and Mudug regions, where the ousted Mogadishu warlord Abdi Qeybdid sent in forces to displace the I.C.C. and was backed by Ethiopian troops and militias from the sub-state of Puntland to the north; and the western Hiraan region, where I.C.C. militias and Ethiopian forces continued a face-off that had begun in June when the Courts initiated their sweep across southern and central Somalia and captured the strategic town of Beledweyne near the Ethiopian border.

As tensions mounted, the breakaway northern sub-states of Puntland and Somaliland came into play, with efforts by sectors of their societies to set up courts linked to the I.C.C. Those initiatives, which were backed by the I.C.C., were met by the governments of the sub-states with efforts to suppress them.

Emboldened by the Courts' successes, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (O.N.L.F.), which has mounted a protracted low-level insurgency in Ethiopia's ethnic Somali Ogaden region, stepped up its activities, reporting attacks on Ethiopian convoys and positions, and defections of Ethiopian troops. According to local media, the I.C.C. and O.N.L.F. were supporting each other's respective campaigns.

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