Thursday, May 03, 2007
Where the Green Lantern Meets Hulk Smash
The U.S.-supported Ethiopian invasion that expelled Somalia's Islamist government last December is rapidly deteriorating into a multi-layered conflict that will prove resistant to resolution. Resistance to Ethiopian troops and the Ethiopian-installed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is inspired by nationalism, religion, economic factors and clan loyalties, yet all of these motivations are part of a constantly shifting pattern of allegiances in which the only common characteristic is a desire to expel foreign troops from Somalia. Local warlords and clan leaders who were deprived of power by the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) are now scrambling to reassert control over their small fiefdoms in Mogadishu, while many former ICU gunmen have transferred their allegiance to clan militias.
Fighting in the Somali capital of Mogadishu has created over 300,000 civilian refugees. Thousands more (nearly all from the Hawiye clan that dominates the capital) have been killed as residential areas become battlegrounds. Only one overwhelmed hospital is open as Ethiopian troops are using other hospitals as barracks. The Somali TFG is exacerbating the situation by imposing bureaucratic delays on the delivery of relief aid arriving in Mogadishu. Unable to resist the Ethiopian incursion, the ICU dissolved December 27, 2006, returning its stockpiles of weapons and vehicles to the clans and militias who had donated them. Since then, a number of leading elements in the resistance have emerged.
Some highlights from McGregor's breakdown of the resistance:
The Hawiye sub-clans have fought each other for years in Mogadishu, but there are signs that opposition to Ethiopian/TFG forces is beginning to unify formerly antagonistic groups. [...]
[Shabaab] became known for its ruthless methods that often discredited the ICU in international opinion. Many ICU leaders distanced themselves from Shabaab, fearing the militia's radicalism would spark a new round of internecine fighting. Shabaab took heavy losses attempting to resist the Ethiopian advance into Somalia last December, but now it is more at home in the vicious urban warfare of Mogadishu.
Once again, playing the part of uniter, not divider. This next excerpt should ring familiar when pondering our support for Ethiopia itself. The same game is being played - as are we.
TFG Prime Minister Gedi maintains that the relentless shelling of north Mogadishu is designed to clear out "terrorist groups." Using the now familiar language of those seeking U.S. military support, Gedi referred to "al-Qaeda operatives" while insisting that only terrorists opposed the government: "there are no Hawiye people involved in the conflict" (Somaliweyn Radio, April 21). The TFG seems well aware that clan warfare rarely brings the type of U.S. support that can be expected by allies in the war on terrorism. According to a Hawiye spokesman, Ethiopian officers insisted during a meeting with the Hawiye cease-fire committee that the attacks on Ethiopian positions in the capital were being carried out by al-Qaeda, a suggestion the Hawiye rejected. The spokesman added that the Hawiye community would prefer death over giving allegiance to President Abdullahi Yusuf (Radio Shabelle, March 23).
McGregor's conclusions are as depressing as they are insightful.
Again, I ask: What is it good for? The most frequently cited rationale for our involvement in this affair has been the ICU's ties to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. But it is not enough to identify such a relationship (itself exaggerated by interested parties) in order to justify any and all actions. Our policies must still be designed such that we can address, in a productive and beneficial way, the threats we perceive. This is a lesson that, sadly, the Bush administration and its conserative allies have proven stubbornly immune to recognizing.
Ethiopia will never support a strong central government in Mogadishu that might ultimately prove capable of pressing Somali claims in the Ogaden region. Thus far, however, Ethiopia's attempt to establish a weak Somali government that owes its existence to Ethiopian power has been a failure. On the other hand, the descent into chaos means Somalia no longer represents a threat to Ethiopia's territorial integrity. If Ethiopia can manage to extricate its troops from Somalia in the near future, this might be interpreted as a victory in Addis Ababa.
Somali life is shaped by a unique social system that aids the survival of the individual, but in turn promotes schisms and hinders the creation of enduring alliances or devotion to ideological causes. Foreign occupation is possibly the only factor capable of uniting Somalis, but there are signs that resistance to Ethiopian/African Union troops may soon exist simultaneously with a Hawiye/Darod clan war. If the situation is allowed to deteriorate to that point, it may be years before peace can be re-established in Somalia.