Somalia: A Peace Deal To Die For

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May 14,2008: Although peace talks are taking place in Djibouti, the clan warfare continues in Mogadishu and throughout southern Somalia. Although there are two coalitions, the Transitional National Government (TNG) and the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), facing off, much of the violence has nothing to do with national politics, or politics at all. Battles are largely over water, land (for grazing or farming) and roads (for extorting money from users). The most intense fighting is in Mogadishu, where the clans that have long controlled this lucrative area, have been displaced by those loyal to the TNG. Assisted by 3,000 Ethiopian troops, the new group has expelled most of their opposition from the city, and several hundred thousand of these civilians now live in new camps along the main road heading inland. Using these camps as a base, gunmen sneak back into the city and make attacks. Everyone knows that the next step is for TNG forces to attack the camps, and disperse them. To try and avoid that, peace talks are under way. But given the history of Somalia, peace is not always the preferred option. The ICU is restricted by its radical factions, who are willing to be destroyed (along with their families) in the cause of establishing a religious dictatorship in the region. Any deal the ICU might make with the TNG may well result in a nasty civil war within the ICU, to deal with the ICU radicals.

The Ethiopians admitted that they have about 3,000 troops inside Somalia, and indicated that they have suffered about 800 casualties in 18 months of operations. That's one or two a day. Higher than what the U.S. suffers in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not high enough to drive the Ethiopians out of the country.

In the wake of the May 1 missile attack that killed an al Qaeda leader, the ICU (which denies being part of al Qaeda, but works closely with the terrorists) organized a demonstration in Mogadishu. Several hundred people, mostly women and children, shouted anti-U.S. slogans. The United States pays for most of the food aid that manages to get past the pirates and bandits to feed starving Somalis. There have been larger demonstrations against rising food prices. While the foreign food aid is free, not enough of it can get past the pirates and bandits to feed everyone, and many people depend on the local markets. There, prices have gone up, as they have worldwide, because of higher demand and lower production in several countries.

Ogaden rebels in Ethiopia have threatened violence against the government of Puntland, after Puntland apparently made a deal with Ethiopia. The new arrangement has Puntland arresting, and turning over to Ethiopia any Ogaden rebels who seek sanctuary in Puntland. In return, Ethiopia will provide weapons and training for Puntland security forces. The Ogaden rebels are allied with the ICU, which is hostile to the Puntland government. Recently, for example, Islamic militants in Puntland tried to kill the last female TV news announcer in Puntland. The ICU, like the Taliban, believe women should stay home, and are willing to kill to make this happen.

 

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