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Saturday, January 31, 2009

FACTBOX - Facts about Somali Islamist leader

Jan 31 (Reuters) - Somalia's moderate Islamist opposition leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was poised to win the national presidency during a parliamentary session in the early hours of Saturday.

Here are facts about the Horn of Africa country's likely new president.

* In his mid-40s, the scholarly and softly-spoken Ahmed was chairman of the Islamic Courts Union that drove warlords from Mogadishu and ran the capital for six months in 2006 before Ethiopian troops ousted them.

* He studied in Libya and Sudan before becoming a geography teacher in a Mogadishu secondary school. He has said it was the kidnapping of a young student for ransom that drove him to set up an Islamic sharia court to rid the capital of banditry.

* Ahmed was seen as a moderate in the Islamic Courts Union. He fled to Kenya, was briefly arrested, and then became part of the Islamist opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) in Eritrea.

* He split with the hardline Islamist leader of the ARS, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, moved to neighbouring Djibouti to take part in the reconciliation process and joined an enlarged parliament with 200 ARS members this week.

* Ahmed said in an interview in 2006 he led a simple life and did not own a computer or satellite phone. He told Reuters this week he wanted to forge peace with Ethiopia, revive the country's social services and reach out to Islamist insurgents still fighting in the country.

* Ahmed has met U.S. officials in the past and is seen as an acceptable president to the West, although hardline Islamists say he has sold out. His first challenge would be to bring them into a reconciliation process.

Seattle school closures will separate Somali community

SEATTLE - Fallout from the Seattle Public Schools closure announcement continues tonight.

The Seattle School Board voted last night to close five schools. They will also relocate eight programs, and discontinue five - like the ones at Meany and Cooper elementary.

Upset parents and community members at last night's meeting certainly had their say. But there is one group that wasn't there, although they were very much affected by the cuts.

Suid Ibrahim is a bilingual instruction assistant at Cooper Elementary, a school with more than 40 Somali children enrolled. That's one of the highest concentrations in the city.

Most are refugees who have found comfort in adapting to America together. Starting next school year, many of them will be separated.

"A lot of emotions are going through a lot of people's minds right now," Ibrahim said.

Like all the other children displaced, the 300 children enrolled at Cooper will get their first choice of attending Arbor Heights, Gatewood or Highland Park.

"School closure is the most challenging decision that a school board and a superintendent face and certainly that families and communities face," said Patti Spencer, spokesperson for Seattle Public Schools.

But Somali community activist Yusuf Cabdi says the Somali people, while concerned, have a different take on the closures.

"There's nothing else that can be done," Cabdi said. "Some cuts have to be made and some people will be happy and others will not, but that's the reality of life."

Cabdi works with Somali children who, before coming to America, had never seen a book, or been in a classroom. The district is assuring that bilingual and special instruction teachers will stay on staff.

Cabdi says right now that's all that matters.

"We're a community that gets used to change," Cabdi said. "I mean most of them came from Somalia, they lived in refugee camps, they came to America. Our community, as long as their children can get an education, they are OK with that."

Islamist leader sworn in as Somali president

DJIBOUTI, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was sworn in as Somalia's president on Saturday, promising to forge peace with east African neighbours, tackle rampant piracy offshore and rein in hardline insurgents.

Analysts say Ahmed has a real possibility of reuniting Somalis, given his Islamist roots, the backing of parliament and a feeling in once hostile Western nations that he should now be given a chance to try to stabilise the Horn of Africa nation.

"As for the international concerns of piracy and the misinterpretation of Islam we will take concrete action," Ahmed said after being sworn in the same hotel conference hall where a peace deal was signed to bring the opposition into government.

There is widespread recognition both within and outside Somalia that reconciling 10 million people who have been tormented by clan-fuelled violence and anarchy for the past 18 years is a daunting task.

"What lies ahead in a best case scenario is a painfully slow political process aimed at building a coalition of the centre, one local entity or leader at a time," said Somalia expert John Prendergast, co-chairman of the U.S.-based advocacy group the Enough Project.

There were some signs of hope in Somalia's capital Mogadishu after Ahmed was elected in an all-night parliament session held in neighbouring Djibouti due to security concerns at home.

Residents fired anti-aircraft missiles into the sky in celebration after a long vigil in front of the television or next to radios. In the morning, people in Mogadishu waved green branches to show their support and marched in the streets.

"Welcome Sharif, we are tired of war. Let Somalis join hands," chanted mother of three Farhia Hassan.

A 42-year-old former high school geography teacher, Ahmed headed the sharia courts movement that defeated Mogadishu's powerful warlords and brought some stability to the capital and most of south Somalia in 2006.

While initially welcomed for bringing order, the West accused the Islamic Courts Union of links to extreme terrorist groups and Washington's chief regional ally, Ethiopia, sent troops to drive the Islamists from power.


Ahmed fled the country and set up the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) with Islamist allies, while insurgents in the country began fighting to remove the Ethiopian troops, who finally pulled out this month.

"It reduces the Ethiopian footprint to a fingerprint and puts the Somalis back in control," said a Western diplomat, adding that Islamist fighters should also give Ahmed a chance.

Al Shabaab, which is on Washington's list of foreign terrorist groups, said just before the vote that it would start a new campaign of hit-and-run attacks on the government -- whoever came to power.

"Sheikh Sharif and the election in Djibouti is not something to be supported," Sheikh Hassan Yacqub, al Shabaab spokesman in the southern city of Kismayu, told Reuters on Saturday.

Some regional leaders and Western diplomats say al Shabaab is made up of little more than clan-based bandits using the banner of religion to justify their crimes.

In the past two years, more than 17,400 civilians have died during the insurgency, a third of the population now relies on food aid and some 2.5 million have been driven from their homes, a Somali human rights group said on Saturday.

The Islamist leader will fly on Sunday to the very country that booted him from office, as a president attending an African Union summit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa.

He will return to Mogadishu after the summit and his immediate task is to try to put together a unity government -- the 15th such attempt since Somalia descended into anarchy with the overthrow of the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Ahmed said his government would not tolerate any abuse of power or corruption and treat neighbours with respect.

Legislators hope they have elected a man able to isolate or even bring on board hardline insurgents, but warned his task would be even tougher unless he forms a true unity government.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Somali Lawmakers to Elect a New President Friday

Somali parliamentarians are set to elect a new president Friday to replace former President Abdullahi Yusuf who reportedly resigned under international pressure. The new president would lead the troubled Transitional Federal government and ensure peace and stability despite increasing Islamic insurgents attacks. Friday's election comes after opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) were sworn in Wednesday after a Somali legislative meeting in Djibouti voted to endorse the extension of the transitional period of the Somali government for another two years. Mohammed Hassan Daryeel, a Somali member of parliament, told reporter Peter Clottey that moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed seems to be the leading presidential candidate.

"I think about 15 presidential candidates are going to be participating in the election and all the necessary arrangements have been finalized by the electoral committee. The election is going to be held today (Friday), and hopefully we are going to make an important step towards peace and establishing a government of national unity of Somalia to carry a lot of responsibility in order to engage all Somali people towards peace and stability and create the needed peace for the Somali society," Daryeel pointed out.

He said the leader of the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) seems to be popular among parliamentarians despite stiff challenge from Prime Minister Nur Hasssan Hussein.

"According to the speeches of all the presidential candidates that we have heard and according to the reaction of the MP's and the participant, etcetera, the most likely candidate to win today's election is Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, chairman of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia," he said.

Daryeel said Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed seems to have what it takes to unify all Somalis.

"I think due to various aspects like from the security dimension, from political dimension, from economic dimension and according to the challenges on the ground he is the most popular. Most people have endorsed based on all these issues and are willing to vote for him. Also according to ordinary Somalis, including the media, everybody is preparing for Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to be the president," Daryeel noted.

He said the leader of the ARS addressed the challenges of insecurity among other concerns during his speech to members of the newly expanded parliament who would be voting to elect a new president.

"In terms of his agenda he addressed the challenges on the ground including the Islamic insurgents. Since he is also an Islamist he said Islam is not a violent religion and added that there are some ideological problems that the insurgents are using to attack ordinary Somalis that need to be addressed. He said he has the experience and chronicled his rule under the ICU (Islamic Court Union) within which they were able to deal with piracy and insecurity. He said he has the experience to be the president and asked to be given the chance and most of the MP'S were applauding. I think if nothing drastic happens in the coming hours, he would be the president," he said.

Daryeel said the Somali members of parliament currently meeting in Djibouti are aware of the difficulties of insecurity and want the best candidate among the 15 presidential candidates to resolve the problems.

"All the MP's see on the ground that there are challenges and that there must be an approach to address them. And they see among all the other candidates based on the challenges on the ground he (Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed) is the most suitable candidate. This is the indication and the feeling they have and they are addressing that issue in that frame," Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed pointed out.

The Somali parliament which is currently meeting in Djibouti City also voted to extend by two years the transitional period of the interim Somali government whose original term of five years will end in seven months' time.

150 new members of parliament of the moderate Islamist Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) were sworn in Wednesday in Djibouti as part of an effort to bring former rebel opponents into the government.

Meanwhile, about 75 parliamentary seats are being kept vacant but will be allocated at a future date to those still to join, including members of civil society and opposition who are not members of the ARS.

Nine countries sign deal to fight Somali piracy

DJIBOUTI (AFP) — Nine countries from the region most affected by Somali piracy on Thursday signed a deal enhancing cooperation in the fight against piracy in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

A code of conduct was signed by eight coastal nations as well as Ethiopia during a special meeting convened in Djibouti under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

"This Djibouti code of conduct is the first regional agreement between Arab and African countries against acts of piracy against ships in the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and the western Indian Ocean," Koji Sekimizu, head of the IMO's maritime safety division, told an AFP reporter at the meeting.

The document provides for the creation of three information centres in Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Sanaa and a training centre for anti-piracy units in Djibouti.

"We now have an efficient mechanism to fight against piracy. The text of the code has been accepted by concensus. The IMO is ready to help the member states to implement this agreement," Sekimizu added.

The nine signatories are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, the Maldives, the Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania and Yemen.

The code of conduct says coastal states should make the necessary changes in their legislations to facilitate the arrest and prosecution of piracy suspects.

The fate of Somali pirates arrested by warships patrolling the area -- most of which were dispatched by Western navies -- has been a sensitive issue.

Some observers describe the drive by the United Nations and other key players to legalise the transfer of Somali pirates by foreign navies to a court in a coastal country as a "rendition programme with a UN stamp".

The meeting however failed to reach an agreement on allowing foreign navies to engage in hot pursuit in Somali territorial waters.

"It is a very serious issue under international law and sovereignty. There is a principle that each ship pursuing a pirate has to ask for the permission of the concerned state to enter its waters. We have decided to stay on this principle," Sekimizu explained.

Chantal Poirier, France's special ambassador on anti-piracy issues, said during the meeting's closing session she had hoped "for a more binding agreement".

Around 140 foreign vessels were attacked by Somali pirates in 2008, threatening to disrupt world trade and making Somalia's waters the world's most dangerous.

The growing scourge spurred Western powers into dispatching several warships to the region but pirates have proved to be undeterred and continued their attacks.

A German gas tanker was seized by pirates in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday despite being under navy escort.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Somali rivals to seek MPs' votes

Presidential candidates are preparing to address the expanded Somali parliament a day before it votes to choose a new head of state.

At least 14 candidates are running, including Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein and moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.

An additional 149 opposition members have been sworn in to parliament which is meeting in neighbouring Djibouti.

The Islamist al-Shabab militia says it will not recognise the new government.

All of the nearly 500 Somali MPs are attending the session, where the presidential hopefuls will put forward their agendas.

Foreign spouses forbidden

Each candidate will have to present $2,000, a CV and official documents.

The BBC's Daud Aweis says according to the constitution "each candidate must prove he is married to a Somali woman. It is fine to have a foreign passport but not a foreign spouse."

The new Somali president will be chosen by the MPs, who will vote in a secret ballot on 30 January.

The plan is for the new head of state to be sworn in the following day.

He is then due to fly to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for an African Union summit.

Enormous challenges

Parliament is meant to relocate from Djibouti to the Somali capital Mogadishu within days.

But our correspondent says this is unlikely.

He points out that Mogadishu is facing an insurgency and there are not enough AU peacekeeping troops to protect all the MPs.

It is likely that some will stay in Djibouti and others will relocate to Kenya, he says.

With Islamist al-Shabab militiamen in control of the former seat of parliament Baidoa, and many other parts of central and southern Somalia, the challenges facing the new president will be enormous, our correspondent says.

Somalia has not had a functioning central government since 1991.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in successive waves of violence.

More than a million people have fled their homes.

Some three million - a third of the population - needs food aid, donors say.

Justice in Somalia: Militants cut off thief's hand

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Islamic militants have cut off the hand of a man convicted of stealing fishing nets, officials said Wednesday.

The group, al-Shabab, is imposing a strict form of Islam with punishments including lashings and stonings that have drawn fear and trepidation in this Muslim country.

In one case, the group stoned a 13-year-old girl to death for adultery even though her parents said she was a rape victim.

Mohamed Sahal Iidle, a judge in the port town of Kismayo, said Wednesday that a 26-year-old man had his hand cut off late Tuesday for stealing three sacks full of fishing nets worth $300 from a businesswoman.

"He screamed once after his hand was cut off," said witness Ibrahim Yare. "Then nurses whisked him away."

Al-Shabab, which is on Washington's list of terror groups, has been gaining ground as Somalia's Western-backed government crumbles.

The arid, impoverished Horn of Africa nation has not had a functioning government since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew a socialist dictator. Pirates operate off its lawless coastline and analysts fear the failed state is a harbor for international terrorists.

Pirates hijack tanker in Gulf of Aden

13 crew members taken hostage along lawless Somali coast

NAIROBI, Kenya - Somali pirates on Thursday hijacked a tanker and its crew of 12 Filipinos and one Indonesian in the Gulf of Aden, a diplomat and a U.S. official said.

Lt. Nathan Christensen, a Bahrain-based spokesman for the U.S. 5th Fleet, said the tanker Longchamp was taken earlier in the day.

A Nairobi-based diplomat also confirmed the hijacking and gave the details of the crew's nationalities. He asked that his name not be used because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

It was not immediately clear what cargo the tanker was carrying, although Lloyds Maritime Intelligence told NBC News that the Longchamp carries liquid petroleum gas.

The ship left Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in Morocco, and passed through the Suez Canal on the 21st January, Lloyds said. It then turned off it's IAS guidance system — which ships can now do through the Gulf of Aden to avoid hijackings, although it also means that at present it is not known exactly where the tanker is.

Piracy taking growing toll
Piracy has taken an increasing toll on international shipping, especially in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. Pirates made an estimated $30 million hijacking ships for ransom last year, seizing more than 40 vessels off Somalia's 1,900-mile coastline.

Somali waters are now patrolled by more than a dozen warships from countries including Britain, France, Germany, Iran and the United States. China and South Korea have also ordered the dispatch of warships to protect their vessels and crews from pirates.

Christensen said the protecting warships were not involved in the incident in which the Longchamp was taken. Christensen had no other details on the vessel and its crew.

Somalia, a nation of about 8 million people, has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other. Its lawless coastline is a haven for pirates.

Were Minnesota Somalis recruited for jihad?

FBI and counterterrorism officials suspect that young Somali men who have disappeared from the Twin Cities are part of a terrorism group, according to an article in the currrent issue of Newsweek.

As many as 20 young men have disappeared over the last year and a half, and some Somalis have said that Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, the largest mosque in the area, may be connected. The imam of that mosque, Sheikh Abdirahman Ahmed, has denied any role in the disappearances. Last fall, placement on the federal no-fly list prevented the imam from making a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The Newsweek article explores the disappearances and the rumors and the perspective of counterterrorism officials. Parents of the missing young men and the FBI believe the youth have joined Al-Shabaab, a group on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Formed in 2004, Al-Shabaab has been fighting to restore sharia law to war-torn Somalia.

Here's more from Newsweek:

Since al-Shabab is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, traveling to Somalia to train or fight with the group is illegal. But security officials involved in the investigation have a bigger concern--that a jihadist group able to enlist U.S. nationals to fight abroad might also be able to persuade Somali-Americans to act as sleeper agents here in the United States.

Al-Shabab has no history of targeting the U.S. But the group has grown closer to Al Qaeda since the American-backed invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia in 2006. Al-Shabaab has since been working with a number of non-Somali operatives wanted by the United States, including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, an architect of the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, according to intelligence officials.

Newsweek offers one perspective, but it doesn't explain why Twin Cities Somalis -- especially youth who have been raised here -- might join Al-Shabaab. Some local Somalis dispute that Al-Shabaab is a terrorist organization. Instead, they see it as an outlet for frustrated youth who believe Islamic law to be the only way to restore peace to their country. Such youth are vulnerable to calls to return to fight.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sheik Sharif Proposes Peaceful Co-existence with Neighbours

Mogadishu, Somalia (HOL) - Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed who is the leader of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) and of a presidential candidate has spoken about the need for peaceful co-existence with Somalia’s neighbours

Sheik Sharif who is seen as a moderate Islamist by the world community told Reuters News Agency that he is prepared to talk to groups that are fighting in Somalia.

“We need to bring clarity and peaceful settlement to the conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia which has been dragging for a long time” said Sheik Sharif. He added that a peaceful settlement of the conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia will help in tackling the poverty the people in the region suffer from.

Sheik Sharif also talked about the killings and fighting that still continue in Somalia and said that there is no need to continue fighting and that it is time to bring peace to Somalia and look after the interest of the Somali people.

“Resistance forces wanted to get Ethiopia out of Somalia and they have succeeded in doing so therefore it is unnecessary to spill the blood of more Somalis” said Sheik Shariif who added he is willing to talk to those with proposals to end the conflict in Somalia and that he will also talk to those with whom he may have religious differences.

Talking about the Al-Shabab forces which the US added to its terrorist list, he said that he will talk to Al-Shabab in an effort to advance the interests of Somalis

At the end he discussed the hopes of forming a unity government in Djibouti and said that he is very hopeful that a unity government will be formed in Djibouti and warned against those who will destroy Somalia and Somalis for their own short-term self-interest.

UNHCR Tells Kenya to Stop Deporting Somali Asylum Seekers

The U.N. refugee agency accuses Kenya of forcibly deporting asylum seekers and says it must stop. The UNHCR says the forcible deportation of asylum seekers goes against the principles of the 1951 Geneva Convention, which Kenya has signed.

UNHCR says the last incident occurred on January 16 when Kenyan authorities deported three Somalis who had entered the country along the Liboi border area in northeastern Kenya

U.N. refugee spokesman Ron Redmond says police shot at a vehicle carrying 30 people when the driver refused to stop. He says two men and a woman were wounded. They subsequently were taken about 90 kilometers, to Dadaab, to receive medical attention.

He says the UNHCR does not know what happened to the other 26 Somali passengers.

"In Dadaab, the three wounded were interviewed by UNHCR and said they had fled the fighting in Mogadishu and had come to Kenya to seek asylum," he said. "UNHCR officially informed the local authorities and requested that they be handed over to the Kenyan Department of Refugee Affairs and UNHCR for further action. However, on January 21, according to hospital officials, six policemen turned up at the Dadaab Health Center, where the three asylum seekers were undergoing medical treatment for their bullet wounds, ordered them into a police van and drove them to the border."

Redmond says the authorities have confirmed the Somali asylum seekers had been returned to Somalia. He says it is difficult for UNHCR staff to monitor the entire Kenyan-Somalia border, so it does not know how many people were forcibly deported last year.

"We do know that some 60,000 Somalis did enter Kenya last year," he said. "This is despite the government's official position that that border is closed. We would just remind all governments that under the 1951 Refugee Convention and under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights people have the right to seek and enjoy asylum in neighboring States and they should not be sent back to danger."

Redmond says the UNHCR has spoken to the Kenyan authorities on numerous occasions about its breach of the International Refugee Convention and of Kenya's own Refugees Act. He says Kenya should respect the rights enshrined in these documents.

Q&A: Somali presidential elections

Somalia's MPs are meeting in neighbouring Djibouti to elect a new president of the transitional government.

According to the country's transitional charter, a new president should be elected within 30 days following the resignation of the president in office.

However, MPs voted to extend the deadline by up to five days, meaning the ballot is now scheduled to be held by 2 February.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian troops supporting the government have left the country - and Islamist fighters have seized Baidoa, home of the Somali parliament.

Baidoa was one of the few regions where the government had any effective control. Some reports say the Islamists have now taken over the town's presidential palace.

Why are elections being held now?

On 29 December 2008 President Abdullahi Yusuf resigned after parliament refused to back his sacking of Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, more popularly known as Nur Adde. The MPs voted instead to impeach Mr Yusuf as an obstacle to peace.

President Yusuf was an ally of neighbouring Ethiopia - one of Somalia's traditional enemies - and a staunch opponent of Somalia's Islamists.

He opposed Nur Adde in a power struggle over the composition of the government, and Nur Adde's attempts to engage with moderate Islamists.

He was also accused of favouring his own clan, the Darod, over Mogadishu's dominant Hawiye - Nur Adde's clan.

President Yusuf's popularity among the international community waned when he was seen to be obstructing efforts to push through the Djibouti peace agreement, signed by a moderate wing of the Islamist Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) in August 2008.

The agreement calls for the formation of a unity government.

Why are the elections being held in Djibouti?

Elections are being held outside the country because of insecurity in Somalia. This will also allow the moderate wing of the ARS, which is Djibouti-based, to take part in the process.

In line with the Djibouti peace agreement, MPs voted on 26 January to double the number of seats in parliament from 275 to include Islamists and civil society.

The ARS will have 200 of the new seats, and 75 civil society members will take up the rest.

The expanded parliament will choose the new president.

Who are the main contenders?

Nur Hassan Hussein (Nur Adde)

He is the current prime minister. Observers of the Somali political scene say Nur Adde is the one member of the government capable of attracting international support for the country. He is reported to have the backing of the United States.

Nur Adde is from the Abgaal sub-clan of the Hawiye, one of Somalia's four most powerful clans. He was the country's chief police officer in charge of planning and training under President Muhammad Siad Barre, whose regime collapsed in 1991, leaving the country in anarchy for more than a decade.

After law studies at Mogadishu National University and Fiscal Law School in Rome, Nur Adde became attorney-general, a post he held until 1991. He then served as secretary-general of the Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS), a post which gained him wide respect.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad is the leader of the moderate Djibouti-based wing of the Islamist ARS. He is also a member of the Abgaal clan. He was chairman of the Islamic Courts' Union which ran Mogadishu in 2006, until it was ousted by Ethiopian troops.

He says he wants to make peace with Ethiopia, recruit Islamist militia fighters into a national security force, and rebuild the country's social services.

He told Reuters news agency that he was prepared to discuss any political or religious issues with insurgents still fighting in Somalia.

Ali Mohammed Ghedi

Ali Mohammed Ghedi was Somalia's prime minister from 2004 to 2007. He was relatively unknown in political circles upon his appointment.

Like Nur Adde and Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, he is also from the Abgaal sub-clan of the Hawiye. He was portrayed as a man with a "clean slate" who could foster reconciliation between the country's warring clans.

Mr Ghedi was unable to end the long-running civil war during his three-year stint.
Mr Ghedi announced his resignation in October 2007, citing differences with President Yusuf. He remains a member of parliament.

What about the Islamists?

Hardline Islamists groups continue their militant activity outside the political process.

These including al-Shabab, which is on Washington's list of foreign terrorist groups, and the Asmara wing of the ARS, based in the Eritrean capital under the leadership of Sheikh Hasan Dahir Aweys.

They have vowed to continue fighting to remove Ugandan and Burundian African Union peacekeepers from Somalia and install Sharia law across the country.

On trail of Somali teen jihadists, FBI visits Atlanta Liberian community

While pursuing our recent story about the shooting death of a local teenager, I stumbled into an active FBI
investigation. One evening last month, more than 60 members of Atlanta’s Liberian community gathered at Clarkston International Bible Church outside the city, to discuss the shooting by a Liberian youth. Community leaders spoke: a school principal, a minister, a judge, the local police chief. The shooter’s family expressed regret and asked for help: His mom said she’d been in the US for five years raising her three children alone, and “I have ever been trying my possible best, God knows.”

Two hours into the meeting, a pale, buzz-cut man, who’d slipped in partway through, stood and introduced himself as FBI Senior Special Agent Andy Young – “not the Andrew Young,” he joked, referring to the
Atlanta civil rights icon. Crowd members shifted in their seats, and the event’s moderator joked that if the agent had said he was from US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the room would’ve cleared out. This got a huge, nervous laugh.

No, Agent Young said, he wasn’t there to bust anybody on immigration violations. He was there to dispel commonly held fears about the FBI. He knew, he said, that many in refugee-rich Clarkston came from countries where national security services were “snatching people in the middle of the night.” FBI agents are US public servants, he said, and “we are your friends.” His agents would be visiting churches and mosques all over Clarkston to listen to the community’s concerns.

But friendship, he said, carries “reciprocal obligations” – so he had a favor to ask. Although this was a gathering of – “Liberians, right?” – from the opposite side of Africa from Somalia, he wanted to ask their help making
contact with friends, neighbors, coworkers: Anyone who might be a leader of Atlanta’s Somali community.

Because Somali kids were disappearing. Not in Atlanta yet, that he knew of. But “six or seven high school kids,” former refugees resettled in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area, the largest Somali community in the US, had recently been recruited by an extremist group through a mosque there and sent back to Somalia to train as suicide bombers.

“One child blew himself up last month,” Young said. “They flew his thumb back to [the FBI Academy in] Quantico [Va.],” fingerprinted it, and discovered he’d come to the US as a refugee.

“They’re still looking for those six other children,” said Young, “Their parents had no idea. They reported their kids missing.” If terrorists are recruiting teenagers in Minnesota, Young said, they could easily be
doing it in Atlanta too.

“You are my eyes and ears,” he told the crowd. “Confidentiality is a given.”

Since the meeting, I’ve been following news accounts of the FBI investigation of the missing Twin Cities-area youths. Newsweek reports there have been about 20 such cases in the past 18 months. The boy Agent Young
mentioned, who blew himself up in October, was a Somali-American Minnesotan named Shirwa Ahmed. His bombing, Newsweek said, “killed dozens of civilians and political opponents of Al-Shabab,” a hardline jihadist group believed to have close ties with Al Qaeda.

The weekly also reports that an FBI and Department of Homeland Security bulletin last week named Al Shabab as a group possibly planning an attack in the US to disrupt the presidential inauguration.

The Newsweek article examines in detail the story of another missing teen. “But security officials involved in
the investigation have a bigger concern,” reporters Dan Ephron and Mark Hosenball write, “that a jihadist group able to enlist U.S. nationals to fight abroad might also be able to persuade Somali-Americans to act as
sleeper agents here in the United States.”

The Liberian community meeting, I guess, got caught up in that scramble.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eleven more AMERICANS arrested in Somaliland

More on this story. It seems like there were more arrests involving US citizens traitors, specifically Somali-Americans. Somaliland authorities arrested 11 Somali-Americans in connection to the smuggling of anti-aircraft weapons. The 11 Somali-Americans were trained by al Shabaab, aka the African Taliban, and according to authorities were supposed to carry out attacks in the capital of Somaliland.

So that brings the total of Somali-Americans arrested in Somaliland up to 15. At least five more traitors are on the loose somewhere on the horn of Africa. It's a good thing al Shabaab's website has been shut down, this should cut down on their recruitment ability.

Somaliland is an autonomous part of Somalia considered "friendly" to the U.S. Unlike the rest of the country, it has something resembling a functioning government.


MOGADISHU, Jan. 23 (Xinhua) -- Security forces in the self-declared republic of Somaliland in northwestern Somalia on Friday siezed nearly 10 small one-time use anti-aircraft missile launchers and arrested two suspects in connection with the illegal weapons in Hargeisa, capital of the state, reports reaching here said.

Abdullahi Ismail Irro, the interior minister of Somaliland which declared its independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991, said the missile launchers were originally from Eritrea and were transported through the central Somali region of Galgadud before they were stored in a house in Hargeisa. [...]

Eleven youths suspected of being trained with the hardline Islamist group of Al-Shabaab in the south-central Somalia were arrested. The youths reportedly arrived from Mogadishu to Hargeisaand had lived in the United States.

The suicide bombers were Somali youths allegedly recruited and trained by Al-Shabaab movement to carry out the attacks in Hargeisa.

Hardline Islamists claim control of Somali parliament town

MOGADISHU (AFP) — Hardline Somali Islamists on Monday said they had taken control of Baidoa, the seat of the country's parliament, after Ethiopian troops pulled out at the weekend.

Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, the spokesman of the Shebab, a military youth wing of an Islamist movement ousted by Ethiopian forces forces in early 2007, said the south-central town was now under their control.

"The town is completely in our hands. We have taken control of Baidoa today," Robow told AFP. "There are a few militia who are firing at us in the town, but we are going to crack down on them."

Robow said earlier Monday that they were closing in on Baidoa, located some 250 kilometres (155 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu and which was the last town to be vacated by the Ethiopian troops.

Baidoa residents said they saw Shebab fighters in the town and heard exchanges of gunfire.

"I have seen a lot of the Islamists' vehicles. They have entered the town... We have heard gunshots in the presidential palace area," said resident Ali Abdullahi Hassan.

"I have seen Sheikh Mukhtar Robow on board a pick-up truck inside the town. He had a lot of heavily-armed militia with him," local elder Hussein Moalim Nur said.

The Shebab had relentlessly fought the Ethiopian toops who rolled into Somalia to support a weak transitional government against the Islamist movement in late 2006.

Ethiopia announced on Sunday that it had completed its pullout from Somalia and hailed the intervention as a success.

The Baidoa attack came as the government met with the moderate Islamist-dominated opposition group Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) in Djibouti and agreed to double the 275 parliamentary seats to accommodate the ARS.

But hardline Islamists have rejected the UN-sponsored talks in Djibouti and despite pegging their participation in the talks on Ethiopia's withdrawal, they have continued with the insurgency.

The top United Nations envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, said the Baidoa attack would have no impact on the Djibouti negotiations.

"If the fall of Baidoa is proven, it would not jeopardise the current negotiations or the election of a new president," Oul-Abdallah said in Djibouti where more than 1,000 Somali politicians are gathered to elect a new president.

After being sworn in, the lawmakers are expected to elect a new president after the post fell vacant last month with the resignation of Abdullhai Yusuf Ahmed.

The new president is to take oath of office on January 31, the UN office for Somalia said in statement Monday.

The departure of the the Ethiopian forces sparked security fears in the war-ravaged country that is also beset by a leadership crisis.

On Monday, the African Union warned that the extremist Islamists militia were plotting more suicide attacks after a car bomb killed 22 civilians in Mogadishu.

The AU forces -- comprising Ugandan and Burundian contingents -- have also been targeted by the insurgents and have lost nine soldiers since Ugandan forces first deployed in March 2007.

The Horn of Africa country has lacked an effective central authority since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre sparked internecine violence.

Somali culture embraced

By: Samantha Bushey

Posted: 1/26/09

The Somali Student Association (SSA) hosted the second annual Somali Night, "I Am Somalia" in Atwood Ballroom Saturday.

In the past, the SSA has teamed up with and participated in Africa night, but decided last year to have a separate night devoted to the Somali culture.

The night was full of informational videos, cultural dances, poetry, songs and a fashion show.

"This is just to celebrate the Somali culture," president of the SSA, Zamzam Mumin said. "We want to give a full night to educate them (St. Cloud residents and SCSU students)."

In order to enlighten as many people in the St. Cloud community as possible about the Somali culture, the SSA invited the Boys and Girls Club and gave them free tickets for the event.

The night started with a short video giving general information about Somalia, then went into the Somali Anthem followed by a presentation by Abdikariim about unsung heroes of Somalia.

The four unsung heroes talked about were Ahmad Ibrihim Khazi, Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, Hawo Osman and the Somali Youth League that started in 1943 and was Somalia's first political party.

"They laid the foundations for today," Abdikariim said.

After the Buraanbur dance, performed by 12 women while Raxmo Ruuxi sang, came a "History of Somalia" video that went more in depth with information about Somalia including information about its tribes and civil war.

In introducing Khalid Adam with his poetry, Abdimalik said, "I hope you enjoy it because we are the land of poets."

The poem "Duality" was written and recited by Adam. "The sun pulsed red hot vulva… oh the things they did to survive, to live complete… as you dismiss this experience… this is the Somali experience whether you like it or not… we are the ultimate test of endurance… we are the duality that encompasses humanity."

When dinner was served, the audience formed a line on each side of the ballroom, and members of the SSA served everyone the variety of dishes. If someone did not get in line for food, a member of SSA would bring them a plate of food so they could get the full Somali experience.

Having the full Somali experience sometimes made it hard to know what was going on because, "They are using mostly their language so it's kind of difficult," Ram Maharjan, SCSU student, said.

Maharjan thought it would have been easier if they had the English words on the screen during the songs and all parts of the narration when they were not speaking English.

At the end of one of the cultural dances, the Dhiisow, performed by five men and five women, one of the dancers stepped forward and shouted, "We are the Somali. I am Somalia."

When the executive board of SSA went on stage, they thanked Multicultural Student Services and Student Government Association for their help with putting together the second annual Somali Night and Mumin said, "Hopefully we can get more of your support in the future and it will be an endless tradition." © Copyright 2009 University Chronicle

Monday, January 26, 2009

Somali lawmakers vote in favor of parliament’s enlargement

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mogadishu, Somalia (APA) - Members of the Somali Transitional Federal Parliament on Monday unanimously voted for the extension of the parliament to pave the way for an all-inclusive legislature which will elect a speaker and a president within the next few days.

Before voting began, Djibouti’s representative to the Somali peace talks and the minister for Justice Hamid Abdi Sultan urged Somali lawmakers to show a great responsibility to safe the war-weary Somali people from renewed civil war.

After a lengthy discussion, the acting Somali president and parliament speaker Sheikh Aden Mohamed Nur Madoobe announced that Somali legislators unanimously voted in favor of the extension of the parliament.

“Two hundred and twenty lawmakers have participated in today’s meeting, 211 of them agreed to enlarge the parliament, six against while three abstained, so the parliament is extended from now on and recently 275 members from the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) will join us” the speaker and acting president Sheikh Aden Mohamed Nur Madoobe told lawmakers on Monday.

On Sunday evening, the Islamist-dominated ARS nominated Islamic courts chairman Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed as its sole candidate for the upcoming presidential election.

The international community-backed Somali peace process in Djibouti is the latest of 15 failed attempts to look for a lasting solution and a national functioning government for Somalia which has been engaged in bloody civil wars for nearly two decades.

Moderate Somali Islamist Leader To Vie For Presidency

Monday, January 26, 2009

NAIROBI (AFP)--Moderate Somali Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed announced Monday he was running for the country's presidency, left vacant after Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed resigned last month.

"I will do all that I can to serve honestly if elected president," Ahmed told AFP by phone from Djibouti.

Ahmed is the leader of the Islamist-dominated Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, or ARS, which has signed a peace deal with the Somalia's transitional government under U.N.-mediated talks in Djibouti.

Part of the agreement is to double the parliamentary seats from the current 275 to accommodate members of his group.

More than 1,000 Somali politicians are currently meeting in Djibouti to agree on an enlarged parliament, swear in the new legislators and elect a new president.

At least 16 other candidates, including current Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein and his predecessor Ali Mohamed Gedi have declared interest.

Other contenders include Hassan Abshir Farah, a former prime minister, lawmakers Abdi Abdulle Jini Boqor,

Mohamud Mohamed Gulled, Mohamed Qanyare Afrah and former Mogadishu mayor Adde Hassan Gabow.

AU peacekeepers warn of possible further suicide bombings in Somali capital

MOGADISHU, Jan.25 -- The African Union (AU) peacekeeping forces in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, said on Sunday that they have credible information of possible further suicide attacks against them.

The warning came a day after a suicide car bomb exploded close to a base of the AU peacekeepers in the south of the city.

Speaking to local media, Bridgeye Bahoku, spokesman for the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), said that other suicide car bombs are "ready and can be used to target AMISOM bases in Mogadishu at any moment".

"We have been given this information by some residents of the capital who told us that two Toyota pickup vehicles will be used, possibly the type used by the Somali police force," Bahouku told local Shabelle radio.

On Saturday a suicide car bomb aimed at the AMISOM base blew up before reaching the target after a policeman fired at it when the driver refused to stop, killing nearly 17 civilians in a bus and wounded 37 others including bystanders.

Police later said that the suicide bomber was a foreigner from an Arab state which they did not specify. The Al-Qaida linked Al-shabaab movement has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.

Nearly 3,400 African peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi are currently deployed as part of an initially UN-authorized 8,000-strong AU peacekeeping force in Somalia. Several other African countries that pledged to contribute have not yet done so citing logistical and financial constraints.

Minister: Ethiopia Completes Pullout From Somalia

Ethiopia says it has completed the withdrawal of troops sent to Somalia more than two years ago to drive out Islamist extremists and restore the country's transitional federal government to power. Somalia's transitional government is still trying to establish its authority.

Communications Minister Bereket Simon says the last of the estimated force of 3,000 Ethiopian troops in Somalia have returned home. VOA's Somali Service reporters in the central town of Baidoa say they saw Ethiopian troops vacating two bases in the town Sunday. The Ethiopians were said to be en route home, a trip that could take several hours.

The withdrawal of the Ethiopian soldiers leaves security in Somalia to the 3,400-strong African Union force, AMISOM, and about 10,000 government troops.

Bereket called it unfortunate that Ethiopia had not succeeded in its goal of achieving a lasting peace in its chronically unstable Horn of Africa neighbor. But in a telephone interview, he said the two year military adventure had succeeded in severely weakening the hardline Islamist extremist group al-Shabab.

"We have been able to reduce al-Shabab into simply a terrorist group," said Bereket Simon. "The bankruptcy of that terrorist group has been exposed, and they have become simply a fringe terrorist group."

However, insurgents have taken over nearly all of central and southern Somalia in recent months, except for the capital and the parliament seat of Baidoa.

Security experts had been expecting al-Shabab to stage a spectacular attack in Mogadishu in the wake of Ethiopia's pullout. On Saturday, a suicide car bomb, apparently aimed at an AMISOM checkpoint, crashed into a bus instead, killing many civilians.

The AMISOM force remains at less than half its authorized strength of eight-thousand, leading to fears that Ethiopia's withdrawal could lead to further instability in Somalia.

But AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told VOA AMISOM would not be deterred by terrorist attacks such as Saturday's suicide bombing. He expressed confidence that more battalions of troops would be promised when African leaders gather in Addis Ababa next week.

"As far as the battalions are concerned, we will be having good news, I hope, during the summit of the African Union and beyond," said Ramtane Lamamra. "So, it's very much a work in progress, and we're hopeful we will achieve our goal as far as the political process is concerned, and as far as the security process and stabilization process is [are] concerned."

Somalia's political process is at a critical stage, with lawmakers currently meeting in Djibouti in an attempt to double the size of parliament to include moderate Islamist opposition groups, and to choose a new president. The session opened Sunday with calls for unity, but African and western observers say the task of healing decades of clan rivalries and finding an acceptable power-sharing agreement will be extremely difficult.

The Horn of Africa country has not had an effective central government since 1991, when former dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted.

Somali politicians to expand parliament, elect president

NAIROBI (AFP) — Somali politicians gathered on Sunday for a meeting that will create an expanded parliament to include moderate Islamists and pave the way for electing a new president after a drawn-out power struggle.

More than 1,000 Somalis arrived for the talks being held in neighbouring Djibouti due to the continuing state of insecurity in Somalia, according to participants interviewed by telephone from Nairobi.

The meeting will announce on Monday the doubling of parliamentary seats from the current 275 to accommodate members of the moderate Islamist opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) and civil society groups.

The Djibouti-based ARS led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has been engaged in United Nations-sponsored peace talks with the Somali transitional government to end the country's 17 years of conflict.

Sixteen candidates have declared an interest in succeeding president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed who resigned last month.

Top contenders include ARS leader Ahmed, current Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein and ex-premier Ali Mohamed Gedi.

Parliament will vote for president after the new legislators are sworn in, with either Hussein or Ahmed being the likely winners.

Gedi returned to the limelight of Somali politics last week when he announced his candidature. He was forced to resign in 2007 after months of a bruising power struggle with then president Yusuf.

Hussein, who was appointed premier in November 2007, had also been at loggerheads with Yusuf, notably over attempts to reach a reconciliation deal with the ARS.

Yusuf's departure was seen as easing the obstacles to solving the Somali conflict which has been complicated by the government infighting.

Of the additional 275 seats, 200 will go the the ARS and the remaining 75 to civil society groups.

However, Asmara-based hardline Islamists led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and radical Shebab fighters in Somalia have rejected the process, saying it is manipulated by foreigners.

The hardliners who had insisted on Ethiopian troop withdrawal to engage in peace talks are yet to do so even with the pull-out of Ethiopia's forces from Mogadishu and instead engaged in more battles with the African Union peacekeepers there.

AU Commission chief Jean Ping urged Somalis to "re-commit themselves to dialogue, rise to the daunting challenges facing their country and bring to a definite end the violence and suffering."

Ping made the remarks on Saturday as he condemned a suicide car bomb attack aimed at AU forces in Mogadishu, but which missed its target and instead killed at least 22 civilians in the attack and the ensuing gunbattles.

Conflict in Somalia and power struggles that erupted since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre have scuppered numerous initiatives to restore national stability.

Women's basketball event excites war-weary Somalis

MOGADISHU, Jan 25 (Reuters) - The stadium was packed for the women's basketball tournament in the bombed-out capital of staunchly Islamic Somalia.
Sports events are an unusual and welcome diversion for many residents of Mogadishu, torn by a two-year-old insurgency of suicide bombings, assassinations and indiscriminate artillery attacks.
But women's tournaments are even rarer in the Muslim country, attracting droves of eager spectators who filled the seats of the crumbling, colonial-era Italian stadium of Ex Lucino more than an hour before the start.
Supporters of two rival teams from the city -- Heegan and Horseed -- began cheering "Defeat them! Defeat them!", long before the players appeared on court for the semi-final of the contest that ends this week.
Faduma Yareey, 22, plays for Heegan. Two years ago when she started playing basketball, she told Reuters, some of her neighbours had condemned the practice as against the Koran.
"But now there are no problems," Yareey said, warming up for the game in a headscarf, soccer shirt and tracksuit pants.
"We're improving. We exercise every morning and afternoon, and we'd even like to play in the evening too if there was electricity. I hope we will make it to the national team."
The Horn of Africa nation is a failed state. Islamist insurgents have waged an Iraq-style campaign against a weak Western-backed interim government that has killed more than 16,000 civilians since the start of 2007.
Another 1 million Somalis have been driven from their homes.
The United States has long feared the anarchic country could become a safe haven for radical militants, and it says Somalia's hardline al Shabaab rebel group has close ties to al Qaeda.
But most Somalis are traditionally moderate Muslims -- there was huge pride last August when the impoverished nation was able to send a 10-strong team to the Olympic Games in Beijing.
Aden Yabrow Wiish, chairman of the Somali Basketball Federation, said the current competition was funded by Somali businessmen overseas who wanted to promote reconciliation.
"We are encouraging the youth to put down their weapons," he said. "You can see how the people ... are applauding their local neighbourhood teams, not their clans."
Venturing out onto the Mogadishu streets is dangerous, said Musa Abdullahi, one 68-year-old closely watching the game.
A suicide car bombing aimed at African Union peacekeepers missed its target on Saturday and killed at least 14 civilians.
Abdullahi said the near-daily bloodshed was dismaying.
"As an old man, it hurts my head to hear such stories," he told Reuters. "But when I come here and see young people playing sports together in such harmony, it is refreshing. That is how life should be. That is how I remember my upbringing here." (Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Charles Dick)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Somalia's parliament meets amid calls for peace

DJIBOUTI, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Somalia's parliament met in neighbouring Djibouti on Saturday to discuss how to include the moderate Islamist opposition in a new government that can try and bring peace to the Horn of Africa nation.

After over four years in office, a Western-backed interim government has failed to bring stability to a country where more than 16,000 people have been killed in the past two years and the chaos onshore has fuelled rampant piracy.

The international community has been urging Somalis to settle their differences, expand the parliament and elect a new president next week, in time for a summit of regional leaders.

Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the moderate Islamist leader from the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), told the legislators it was time to join forces, oppose the perpetrators of violence and end the bloodshed.

"This is a day to correct past mistakes. We have to take this historic opportunity," he told the opening of the talks. "There's no excuse for Somalis to kill each other."

The international community hopes a more inclusive Somali government will be able to reach out to armed groups who are still fighting the government and targeting African Union peacekeepers in the capital Mogadishu.

The challenge ahead was underlined on Saturday by the worst insurgent attack in weeks. A policeman and 13 civilians were killed in Mogadishu when a suicide car bomb aimed at the African Union soldiers missed its target.

The African Union's special envoy to Somalia, Nicolas Bwakira, condemned the attack as "barbaric" and warned the Somali politicians that if they failed to make progress, the peacekeepers could leave.

"We have no reason to be in Somalia to provide protection and support to institutions that do not exist, that do not deliver to their people," he said.


The United Nations' envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, was also in threatening mood, saying it was time to think about sending those fuelling the violence to the International Criminal Court. He urged the politicians to make fast progress.

"This has to end," he told the legislators. "It's not going to be business as usual."

But while the U.N. wants the politicians to stick to the tight timeline for electing a new president, some members of the government and the ARS are saying they need time to discuss how to bring in other militant opposition groups.

Some say that without first tackling these issues, an agreement in Djibouti would have little impact on the violence on the ground, nor end the suffering of Somalis.

The more militant Islamist wing of the ARS based in Eritrea has so far refused to take part in the peace process, nor have fighters in the hardline Islamist group Al Shabaab, who want to impose their strict version of Islamic law in Somalia.

"We have to discuss what approach we will take to bring in the other opposition," said member of parliament Mohamed Mohamud Guled. "Without them we won't be able to resolve this."

The first step is for the 275-member Somali parliament to amend the constitutional charter so up to 200 ARS members can join. The new assembly is then expected to elect a new president to replace Abdullahi Yusuf who quit in December. (Additional reporting by Abdiaziz Hassan in Djibouti; Editing by Charles Dick)

An Unclenched Fist

Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to bring something resembling stability to Africa's Horn.

Scott Johnson

As a state, Somalia has racked up more failures than any other on the planet. So said Susan Rice, soon to be Barack Obama's United Nations ambassador, in a Brookings Institution report she coauthored last year. Since then, Somalia's troubles have only worsened: 1.3 million internally displaced people roam the country scavenging for food; the president quit last month; and hard-line Islamist militias, having already taken control of Somalia's south and central regions, now stand poised to tighten their grip on the capital, Mogadishu. Some 10,000 innocent civilians have been killed since January 2007, pirates are terrorizing the coasts, and last month Somalia entered its 19th year without a functioning government. In many ways, Somalia is hardly a state at all.

But as a foreign-policy initiative, Somalia's problems offer Obama a unique chance to sketch a bold path forward in the region. After the Bush administration backed the Ethiopian invasion in 2006, helping to overthrow the moderate Islamic Courts Union, Somalia descended into war, and the Bush policy radicalized an ever-larger portion of the population. But Obama, whose world view embraces the idea of talking to one's enemies, could shift course on this policy failure and increase stability by re-engaging with the Islamists, and in particular with the young fighters who make up the ranks of al-Shabab, the Islamists who have been gaining strength over the last two years and continue to drag Somalia further into chaos.

The window of opportunity for Obama is small and fragile. But two things have happened in Somalia that could make the task easier. First, the hated Ethiopian occupation of Somalia that fueled the growth of al-Shabab is over. Second, Abdullah Yusuf resigned in December as president, paving the way for more moderate and inclusive figures to have greater say. Still, Obama's policy prescriptions would have to be specific, but not overstated. He could temporarily suspend U.S military C-130 flights over Somalia, now a near-constant presence, thereby sending a message that a future policy will not have as its central piece a military component that alienates the very people America needs to bring to the table. Obama could also consider suspending al-Shabab from the terror list temporarily to prove that, as he said in his inaugural speech, America will hold out its hand if its enemies "unclench their fists." A third path would be to open back-channel negotiations with as many hard-line factions as necessary to bring them into talks. Key to any strategy would be a quiet outreach effort to Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, considered the father of Somalia's Islamist movement and likely sufficiently powerful to bring enough radicals to heel to make any diplomacy worthwhile. Finally, as Rice hinted in her confirmation hearings, America needs to begin to fashion a regional approach that would address the longstanding border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea as part of any move to end Somalia's isolation.

It won't be easy. Al-Shabab poses urgent security concerns to the United States and many of Somalia's neighbors. Some of the group's hard-line leaders have connections to Al Qaeda. More worryingly, Somalia has started to attract American jihadists, including several from Minnesota who traveled there recently to fight. An unknown number may still be training in Shabab training camps in the south, and it's unclear whether their long-term goals lie in Somalia or back in Minnesota. Yet Obama, already beset by doubts about his Muslim heritage, isn't likely to make conciliatory talks with Islamists in Africa his first move. "He would be walking into a trap if he did anything that could lead to charges of being soft on terror," says Sally Healy, a Somalia expert at Chatham House.

But the potential rewards of such a strategy are tantalizing. The Bush administration made a policy out of talking to its enemies in Iraq, including many who had killed American soldiers, and as a result Iraq is calmer and more stable. With two wars already on his plate, Obama would do well to quell a rising storm in Africa's Horn, and the sooner the radicals are tamed, the less likely it is that they'll continue to splinter into the kinds of factions that could eventually return Somalia to the days when warlords ruled the streets. The alternative to engagement, says Rashid Abdi of the International Crisis Group's Somalia team, is that "by the end of the year, we could be talking about over 100 armed groups in Somalia." A further descent into warlordism is likely only to help the spread of radical Islam in the region. So while few doubt that a strategy of engaging with the Islamists could be risky, for Somalia and the rest of the Horn the riskiest option may also be the best.

Recruited For Jihad?

About 20 young Somali-American men in Minneapolis have recently vanished.

It didn't trouble Burhan Hassan's mother that her son had been spending more time at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, Minneapolis's largest mosque. A 17-year-old senior at Roosevelt High, Hassan and his family had fled civil war in Somalia when he was a toddler. Some of the other Somali immigrants in the Cedar-Riverside housing project where he lived got drawn into gangs with names like Murda Squad and Somali Mafia. But Hassan was getting good grades and talking about going to college, says his uncle Abdirizak Bihi. When the boy didn't come home from school on Nov. 4, his family assumed he was at the mosque. By evening, his mother had searched his room and found his laptop was gone and clothes were missing. Later, she discovered his passport had been taken from a drawer she kept locked. "That's when we realized something serious had happened," says Bihi.

Hassan, his family later found out, had boarded a chain of connecting flights to Amsterdam and Nairobi and a boat to Kismaayo in Somalia. The city is a stronghold of al-Shabab, which is one of the country's most hard-line jihadist groups and has close ties to Al Qaeda. He traveled with at least two and up to five other young Somali-Americans from Minneapolis, according to others in the community and law-enforcement officials. Within a day, Hassan phoned home to report he was safe—but when probed, he said he couldn't divulge more and hung up. The call and the circumstances of his sudden disappearance led his family to suspect the worst—that Hassan had somehow been persuaded to join Islamic militants fighting for control of the lawless country.

That suspicion is now shared by counterterrorism officials and the FBI, who are probing whether al-Shabab or other Somali Islamic groups are actively recruiting in a few cities across the United States. The officials say as many as 20 Somali-Americans between the ages of 17 and 27 have left their Minneapolis homes in the past 18 months under suspicious circumstances. Their investigation deepened when one of the missing men, Minnesotan Shirwa Ahmed, blew himself up alongside other suicide bombers in Somalia last October, killing dozens of al-Shabab's political opponents and civilians. Ahmed had also prayed at Abubakar, and within weeks the FBI put the imam of the mosque, Sheik Abdirahman Ahmed, on a no-fly list. Among the questions investigators are asking: Who persuaded the young men to go? Who paid for their flights? And what role, if any, has the mosque played in their alleged recruitment?

Since al-Shabab is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, traveling to Somalia to train or fight with the group is illegal. But security officials involved in the investigation have a bigger concern—that a jihadist group able to enlist U.S. nationals to fight abroad might also be able to persuade Somali-Americans to act as sleeper agents here in the United States. Al-Shabab has no history of targeting the U.S. But the group has grown closer to Al Qaeda since the American-backed invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia in 2006. Al-Shabab has since been working with a number of non-Somali operatives wanted by the United States, including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, an architect of the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, according to intelligence officials.

As if to underscore the danger, early last week the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned in a bulletin for the first time that al-Shabab might try to carry out an attack in America—timed to disrupt the presidential inauguration. A government official, who asked for anonymity discussing sensitive intelligence, tells NEWSWEEK the information came from an informant who notified security officials that people affiliated with al-Shabab might already be here. The tip-off proved to be a false alarm. Still, security officials view the bulletin and the disappearances in Minnesota as a warning that Somalia's brew of lawlessness and radicalism might rebound on the United States. "You have to ask yourself, how long is it before one of these guys comes back here and blows himself up?" says a senior U.S. counterterrorism official, who also wouldn't be quoted on the record discussing intel.

Hassan, like several of the other boys who have gone missing, was raised by a single mother; his father was killed in an accident before the family immigrated. The morning after his disappearance, his family searched for him at hospitals in Minneapolis and then went to the police. Osman Ahmed, another of Hassan's uncles, says by then at least two other Somali families had complained to police that their children had not come home. (The Minneapolis Police Department referred NEWSWEEK to the FBI, which would provide only general information.) In a search of one of the missing boys' rooms, family members found an itinerary issued by a Minneapolis travel agency.

The itinerary, obtained by NEWSWEEK, lists two other travelers in addition to Burhan Hassan and charts a punishing five-leg journey to Mogadishu departing Nov. 1 (the reservations were later changed to Nov. 4). The document is significant because it suggests sophisticated planning. Instead of leaving Minneapolis on the same plane, each young man was to travel alone—one to Chicago and two to Boston on separate flights. The counterterrorism official familiar with the investigation says the staggered departures could be evidence of terrorist "tradecraft." Financing of the trips has also raised suspicions. The multiple flights would have cost at least $2,000 for each traveler and were probably paid for in cash. Osman Ahmed says his nephew had no job and could not have accessed such a large sum.

The disappearances have focused unwanted attention on Abubakar and sown tensions within the community. To date, no one has produced evidence that recruiting was underway at any mosque in the city. But several of the young men who left their homes attended prayers and youth programs at Abubakar, and some family members and community organizers believe there's a connection. The most outspoken of them is Omar Jamal, who runs the Somali Justice Advocacy Center. "Someone at the mosque was getting into the minds of these kids," he says.

Abubakar is wedged between modest single-family homes in a residential neighborhood of Minneapolis. On Fridays, several hundred people gather in the carpeted main hall to pray and hear Imam Abdirahman's sermon; at least 40,000 Somalis live in Minnesota, with the majority concentrated in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area. Though most of the worshipers on a recent Friday appeared to be Somali, the imam delivered his 20-minute sermon first in Arabic, then in English and, finally, in Somali. The topic that day was injustice—more specifically, the injustices Muslims must refrain from committing. The list included suicide. "Don't kill yourself," he exhorted the crowd. "Anyone who does is unfair to himself, and Allah will put him in hellfire."

NEWSWEEK found a small number among those who have worshiped at Abubakar and a recently closed sub-branch known as Imam Shafii Mosque who believed the tone was sometimes extreme. Yusuf Shaba, who writes articles for the Warsan Times, a Somali-English newspaper in Minneapolis, says he and his teenage sons attended a lecture at Imam Shafii Mosque in November by a visiting speaker who had fought in Somalia. His presentation turned into a rant. "He talked about the need for jihad," Shaba says. "He got very emotional." Shaba has since kept his children away.

Imam Abdirahman tells NEWSWEEK that he recalls seeing some of the missing young men at the mosque. But none talked about returning to Somalia. "The youths did not consult their imam, just as they did not consult their elders," he says. He denies that any fighters from Somalia (or other countries) lectured at the mosque, and says Abubakar focuses solely on the community, religion and family: "We give the religious perspective." Asked about the possibility that outsiders might have used the mosque to scout recruits, he says, "Mosques are always open to the public … but I don't know anyone of that kind who recruited [here] or talked to the young men."

The imam says he learned the FBI had placed him on the no-fly list when police at the Minneapolis airport prevented him from traveling to Saudi Arabia in November for the hajj. About the same time, FBI agents began coordinating the return to Minnesota of the remains of Shirwa Ahmed, the young man who blew himself up in Somalia a month earlier. His family buried him at a cemetery in Burnsville, south of Minneapolis. As for Burhan Hassan, his uncle Bihi asks, "How does a child who's been in the U.S. since he was 4 or 5 become convinced to leave his parents and go to war in Somalia?" A number of families across Minneapolis are wondering the same thing.

Source: Newsweek
With Michael Isikoff And Scott Johnson

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Suicide car bomb kills 14 in Somali capital

By Abdi Guled
Saturday, January 24, 2009

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A suicide car bomb aimed at African Union (AU) peacekeepers in the Somali capital missed its target and killed 13 civilians and a policeman Saturday.

Islamist insurgents have been battling the country's Western-backed interim government since the start of 2007, and have stepped up attacks since the administration's Ethiopian military allies withdrew from Mogadishu this month.

Abdifatah Shaweye, the city's deputy governor, told Reuters that policemen stationed near an AU base opened fire on the bomb-laden car as it approached, after which it crashed and blew up. Thirteen civilians and a policeman were killed, he said.

"I could see smoke rising near the AU base," witness Abbas Farah said. At least 30 people were wounded, doctors said.

The spokesman for the small AU force AMISIOM, Major Barigye Ba-hoku, said no peacekeepers had been hurt. "That opposition group has massacred only innocent Somali people," he said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Some analysts fear the Ethiopian withdrawal has left a power vacuum that will be exploited by hardline Islamists from the al Shabaab group, which Washington says is linked to al Qaeda.

The international community is putting pressure on Somali politicians meeting in neighbouring Djibouti this week to form an inclusive government with the main Islamist opposition party and elect a new president next week

The U.N. envoy to the country told Reuters it was time for the feuding legislators to ditch the concept of winner takes all and seek compromise to end nearly 20 years of war.

The interim government and its Ethiopian military backers have failed to bring stability to the volatile Horn of Africa nation, where more than 16,000 people have been killed in the past two years and 1 million others driven from their homes.

(Additional reporting by Ibrahim Mohamed and Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Daniel Wallis; editing by Michael Roddy).

Source: Reuters, Jan 24, 2009

Somali Parliamentarians Meet in Djibouti Ahead of Electing a New President

By Peter Clottey
Washington, D.C
23 January 2009

Members of Somalia's parliament are expected to meet Friday in Djibouti ahead of electing a new president and an expanded parliament. Under the Somali constitution, a new president is to be elected to replace the speaker of parliament who has been acting as president. This comes after former President Abdullah Yusuf Ahmed was reportedly forced to resign late December under international pressure after being accused of being a stumbling block to the ongoing Djibouti Agreement which calls for expanding parliament to include the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberalization of Somalia (ARS). Abdalla Haji Ali is a Somali member of parliament. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that Somalia's peace and stability would be the focus of Friday's meeting.

"We have to go to Djibouti to actually have a meeting of all parliamentarians ahead of the expansion of the parliament. We have to make amendments to the constitution to actually expand parliament. Now the constitution of the national charter has only 275 members of parliament (MP's) and we have to actually add another 275 MP's from the opposition to make it 550. But in order to do that we have to legally open it for the opposition to join us with the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) for the new parliament which would actually consist of 550 members," Ali noted.

He said it was important to have the opposition party join the government to ensure unity in Somalia.

"We think as MP's it is really the right thing to do in order to complete the reconciliation and peace process. And we believe that if the opposition joins the Transitional Federal institution it would actually contribute to the peace and stability of the country. So, anything that can actually bring peace and stability to this nation, which has been suffering for a long time, at least for 18 years, and which has experienced strife and civil wars for 18 years. So, I think if we can actually get peace and stability for that then we are ready to do that," he said.

Ali said the meeting in Djibouti would focus on electing a new president as well as expand the Somali parliament to include the opposition.

"That is the second step (electing a new president). When we open it (parliament) and we include the opposition members of parliament then we are going to sit together and select a joint president for the nation, and we are going to finish it in Djibouti," Ali pointed out.

He said although there is no guarantees that electing a new president and reconstituting parliament would bring peace, there is a need to give it a try.

"I hope, and the emphasis is on hope, it would actually help a lot. But as you know there is no 100 percent certainty that it will actually work for the way we want to or for the way we expect or for the way we hope, we don't know that. But as a matter of fact it is a major step forward for the opposition and the transitional government to sit together work together in a single institution and work together. I think it would be very positive and we hope that it would bring this country and these people a lasting peace and stability that can actually benefit everybody," he said.

Source: VOA

Number of Somalis fleeing to Yemen rises

More than 50,000 Somalis were smuggled through the Gulf of Aden to Yemen in 2008, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said in its latest report obtained by PANA here on Friday.

The UNHCR regional office in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, said that the figure represented a 70 per cent increase in arrival over the previous year, during which nearly 30,000 people made the journey.

The increase "represents the desperate situation in Somalia, which continues to be scarred by war, instability, natural disasters and poverty," UNHCR said in the report, titled 'Protecting refugees in 2009'.

The report said that the illegal trafficking in human being was still fraught with dangers, with a number of immigrants thrown into shark-infested waters off the Somali coast.

"In 2008, 590 passengers drowned and 390 were reported missing. The death toll was substantially higher the previous year, when 1,400 persons died. However, there were again many reports of people being beaten to death or thrown overboard by brutal smugglers," it said.

An awareness campaign to reduce the number of potential immigrants by educating them on the risks they face has not yielded the desired results.

In 2008, UNHCR said it embarked on raising awareness among migrants through information campaigns.

"Potential asylum seekers were encouraged to apply for asylum in Puntland, while migrants were warned about the dangers of the journey and the lack of job opportunities in Yemen," the report said.

However, instead of the exodus declining, it shot up following a surge in fighting between the government forces and the Islamic militants.

"In December, an estimated 120,000 Somalis were displaced in Galgaduud, the vast region located in central Somalia, following fights between Al-Shabaab and the Ahlu-Sunna Wal- Jamma militia. Many of these IDPs (Internally-Displaced Persons) have already gone back home as the conflict receded, while the others are likely to return soon," it said.

A fraction of the displaced, however, found their way to Yemen through the turbulent Gulf of Aden, which is also a haunt for Somali pirates, now infamous around the world for hijacking more than 100 ships in the past 18 months.

Nairobi - 23/01/2009

Somaliland: Intelligence Seize Portable Anti-Aircraft Weapons

Hargeisa - Somaliland Intelligence backed by the Police forces seized a number of portable anti-aircraft weapons in one of the houses inside Hargeisa. The news suggests that around 10 pieces of this weapons have been seized and three persons are arrested over the issue.

It is not clear where these weapns came from but uncofirmed news said it has been delieved from Somalia by road and the Somaliland security forces have been following the issue since the last few days.
The Somaliland’s Interior Minister, Mr. Abdilahi Irro said the the weapons were originally sent from Eritrea through Galguduud region of Somalia.

source:Somalilandpress - Jan 23 2009

A Somali operation of World War proportions

Contact Group on Somali Piracy needs to set right rules

The Contact Group on Somali Piracy (CGSP) holds its inaugural meeting at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, pursuant to last December’s UN Security Council Resolution 1851, which authorises states to use armed forces onshore to defeat piracy in the Gulf of Aden. It is incumbent on them to focus on coordination to suppress not only piracy in the region, but also seek ways of avoiding intelligence breaches between states which could lead to much bitter repercussions.

The 24 participating countries as well as the five multilateral organisations expected at the inaugural meeting, Wednesday (January 14), are to discuss how to improve operational and intelligence support to counter-piracy operations, establish a counter-piracy coordination mechanism, strengthen judicial frameworks for the arrest, prosecution and detention of pirates, and strengthen commercial shipping self-awareness and other capabilities.

Improved diplomatic and public information efforts are also needed to disrupt the pirates’ financial operations as well as to avoid any possible friction among states involved in the fight against the criminal activities.

Notwithstanding the effectiveness of the fourth in the series of UN Security Council resolutions on Somali pirate operations, criminal attacks in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean have continued, forcing many countries to intervene militarily.

With about 20,000 ships cruising its waters annually and an estimated 7 to 12 per cent of the world’s oil transitting the Gulf of Aden, it is no wonder that activities hampering the free flow of maritime activities in the area have, and not surprisingly so, affected almost every part of the world.

A cocktail of powerful forces

Faced with an inescapable responsibility to protect its one thousand two hundred plus commercial ships that go through the Gulf of Aden annually, China —, alongside Russia, India and Iran,— has been left with no choice but to weigh in its big guns, while the European Union has moved to authorise its first ever outside zone naval operation (Operation Atalanta). The United States, meanwhile, is assembling a twenty-nation anti-pirate force among which Australia is expected to join, following Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston’s indication last week that Australia was considering taking part in the operation.

The cocktail of powerful countries involved in the operation reflect an urgent need to focus on coordination between states and organisations to suppress not only piracy in the Gulf of Aden as well as the Indian Ocean, but also seek ways of avoiding intelligence breaches as both traditional and relatively new maritime forces meet in the same waters.

Somali pirates, who have amassed hundreds of millions of dollars and acquired an avant-garde knowledge in the use of technology (global positioning systems and satellite phones), will not survive the pressure of a combined military operation worthy of a World War, but whether the world would get out unscathed is highly dependent on a solid regulatory framework governing the seemingly ordinary but extremely sensitive operation.

Alarmed WFP pulls out of Somalia after Ethiopia

Their employees are being targetted for ideological reasons

The World Food Programme has halted its food shipments to Somalia in a high-stakes attempt to press local warlords to rein in violence that has killed two of its employees this month.

Peter Goossens, Somalia country director of the United Nations agency, said the WFP would distribute the food left in its Somali warehouses but he warned that it would run out by early March if it was not replenished by fresh shipments.

He said the WFP would only reopen its “pipeline” – a reference to the sea and land routes through which it ships food from the Kenyan port of Mombassa – when it had received security guarantees from local administrations, warlords and armed militias that control the areas where it operates.

It is a high-risk move for the agency because the difficulty of pacifying highly fragmented armed groups is one reason why Somalia has become a lawless and destitute failed state since its central government collapsed in 1991.

“We will distribute what is in the country and what is on the way. That is it,” Mr Goossens told a news conference in Nairobi on Thursday. “We cannot continue to function as we did and basically have our staff members being killed.”

The agency could find itself at the centre of a political storm if it denied food aid to the 2.5m Somalis who depend on it and Mr Goossens stressed that it hoped it would not have to do so.

“We clearly don’t do this very lightly,” he said. “We wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t really necessary.”

Two Somali nationals working for the agency were killed by gunmen in separate attacks earlier this month as one monitored a feeding session at a school and the other supervised the distribution of food to a refugee camp. Four WFP employees and five contract staff were killed last year.

Nothing was stolen in this year’s attacks, leading the WFP to believe its employees were being targeted for political or ideological reasons. Humanitarian workers have been attacked repeatedly during a two-year-old Islamist insurgency against an unpopular transitional government and its Ethiopian military backers, who are now pulling out of the country.

Confronted by the threat of piracy in the waters around Somalia, the UN agency has had to secure escorts from foreign navies to enable its aid shipments to reach the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

On land, Mr Goossens acknowledged that it was seeking security guarantees from dozens of individuals and groups but said it would not need assurances from all of them to reopen its pipeline.

“These are not specific, very well-structured groups,” he said. “The problem comes from very localised groups. What you can’t do in Somalia is make centralised agreements. You have to go to micro areas.”

Financial Times

Ethiopian_Somali state building capacity of zone, woreda offices

Jijjiga, January 23 (WIC) – Chief Administrator of the Somali state said sectoral offices in the state are building capacity of zone and woreda offices.

Chief of Somali state, Dawd Mohammed Ali told WIC that the state government has paid due attention in building the capacity of zone and woreda offices this budget year. He said agriculture, education and health centers and other sectoral offices are providing training in a bid to meet the human resources demand in their respective zone and woreda offices.

He said more than 500 professionals were deployed at woreda offices to fulfill demand for skilled manpower in the state over the past six months.

He finally said promising works in the health, water and education sectors were also carried out during the past six months.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mostly quiet in this boring old world

You’re probably looking at your screen with bits of spit flecking from your mouth screaming, “Quiet! This Ball Gunner guy knows nothing! The new President is promising all sorts of things, things are ongoing in Israel and Gaza and Afghanistan falls ever further into the gutter. This Ball Gunner guy is clearly off his turret!”

But once you cut through the endless coverage and your CNNs/Fox Newses/MSNBCs slpping any and every blithering, blooming, driveling idiot in front of the camera to repeat the same nonsense and you come to a pretty blasted quiet time, at least on the warfare front.

Now as an entertainer and blogger extraordinare I suppose it’s my sworn duty to come up with something. So here we go:

No one gets too excited about the half-dozen or so bush wars happening in Africa. You get the inevitable celebrity benefit concerts and alot of feel-goodery from the usual suspects, but no one is seriously interested in hopping between your Hutus and Tutsis until the machete arms are tired and everyone gets bored.

But there are few interesting bits kicking about.

Congo is getting steamrolled by the a small army of Tutsis led by dissident general Laurent Nkunda. The War Nerd has a great piece on this guy. Full of the usual diatribe and big boy language that makes the War Nerd so fun to read. I’m trying to catch up on my reading, so I’ll let the War Nerd do the talking here.

The real juicy info is oozing out of the festering wound that Somalia has become on the world scene. The brain trust in the UN decided a while back that the best way to calm Somalia down was by sending in that first-class fighting force, the Ethiopian Army. No one really sat down and thought about all the “wars” (used loosely) the two nations have fought in the past or what a grand idea it was to send in the Christian Ethiopians to rub the Muslim Somalis face in the mud for awhile. There must have just been a poster in some UN room where some general wannabe wrote “Send country A to calm country B” and everyone just went with the idea. I mean, what could go wrong?

Of course there isn’t much trade in sustained warfare out near the horn of Africa. The Ethiopians marched in and handed the Somalians a few humiliating years, now they’re marching right back out. Since the Somali government, never functional to begin with, was pretty much non-existant for that time, the religious nut branch of Islam went in and put into practice all the stuff it’s polished to a fine art in Beirut and Sadr City — it became the courts, the providers and the financiers. It showed the people what a grand old tradition Wahabbi Islam is. Now what was probably a small handful of nuts before the Ethiopians rolled in probably has multiplied into a trans-generational religious wave. After Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza the nuts have fine tuned the art of working underneath government while throwing just enough of your own people into the grinder to keep tensions high. Having completed defensive, and filling through the stalemate stage it proably won’t be long until we see a bit of counter-offensive in the works. Mao would be so proud.

The good news is that Africa being Africa no one will hold on to power for long. Even if the fundamentalist blaze a swath through to Mogadishu the usual infighting, disappearings and good old mutiny will mean Somalia will remain Somalia through and through. Religions have a way of thinking they deliver civilization, but Somalians have prayed to have a dozen strange gods before they started praying toward Mecca. And at the end of the day East African culture just won’t tolerate religious extremist for long without those long curved blades coming out.

Hopefully there are at least a few people at high level taking notes on flubbing an invasion. There’s sort of a golden moment where you’ve done all you can do and if you stay any longer you start losing ground. If the Ethiopians had gone in there and thrown all the clerics under the tank treads and then about-faced and high-tailed it back inland we wouldn’t be dealing with this now. There’d be just one more warlord grabbing what he could grab until he ran up against another warlord and the world would continue apace.

But as the saying goes, “The one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.” Trying to affect an outcome in Africa is an endless and expensive exercise in futility. After a few centuries of colonialism the lesson didn’t stick. But an endless supply of idiots with good intentions means an endless supply of intervention with the same dud results.

So, there. I found something to write about after all.

White-Eyed and Greasy: New Islamist threat looms in Somalia

Nairobi, Kenya » The departure of the last Ethiopian tanks from Somalia's capital is ushering in a new phase of conflict in a nation known for clan warfare: a battle for power among militias flying Islamist banners, with such nicknames as White-Eyed and Greasy.

In some ways, the situation in Somalia, where people have long practiced a moderate and mostly apolitical form of Islam, has circled back to where it was when the Ethiopians invaded two years ago. The U.S.-supported operation was intended to oust a popular movement of moderate and radical Islamists that had taken over the capital and that the United States accused of having ties to al-Qaida.

But the operation drove the more radical Islamist fighters, known as al-Shabab, into a brutal insurgency against the Ethiopian occupiers and the secular, transitional government their invasion installed. After the deaths of at least 10,000 people and the displacement of 1 million, Ethiopia and the United States are now supporting a political compromise that stands to return to power some of the same moderate Islamist leaders they originally ousted.

Those leaders, in turn, face an even worse version of the same problem they had when they first tried to govern: how to control the Shabab, which the United States has labeled a terrorist group. After fighting a two-year-long insurgency, the Shabab has split off from the core movement and become more radical and battle-hardened, with various factions controlling much of southern Somalia.

Militarily, the Shabab is now the biggest threat to the fragile transitional government and the moderate Islamists seeking to become part of it.

At the same time, the Shabab is showing signs of internal divisions. And with the Ethiopians' exit, it is facing an array of new challengers, including local militias and warlords who are restyling themselves as Islamists.

"A lot of militia groups and warlords are now trying to adapt to this new Islamist fashion, to reorganize themselves under the Islamist banner and crush the Shabab," said Ali Said, director of the Center for Peace and Democracy, which operates in exile in Nairobi. "... I think they are just taking the label as a political opportunity, but it has a long-term impact -- the risk is that it can push Somalia into a long-lasting religious war."

In the south, for instance, a group known as the Juba Valley Resistance Movement is marketing itself as an anti-Shabab militia allied with moderate Islamists. "The international community needs to support us," said Mohamed Amin Abdullahi Osman, its leader. "We are against Shabab and want to defeat it."

In the same region, a warlord named Barre Hiiraale who was ousted by the Shabab in October is attempting to revamp his image by associating himself with an old and widely respected moderate Muslim group, al-Sunna wal Gama'a. Hiiraale's militia has successfully fought the Shabab in several towns in southern Somalia in recent weeks.

The traditional leaders of al-Sunna have held news conferences and lectures to disassociate themselves from Hiiraale's rhetoric.

"Every day there's a new group in the name of Islam," said Abdi Abdullahi Osman, a young Somali who fled to Kenya in recent months and said he is sympathetic to Shabab and al-Sunna. Hiiraale "is not al-Sunna. He's a warlord who's just changed his shirt."

Despite the potential in Somalia for a brutal power struggle, observers say some version of political Islam will likely be a feature of Somalia for years to come.

"Politically, leaders are increasingly required to present themselves in some fashion as Islamist -- whether progressive or conservative, that depends," said Ken Menkhaus, a Somali expert and political science professor at Davidson College in North Carolina. "The ascent of political Islam in Somalia is just a fact and not at all a bad thing. Some of the best, most effective social services have come under private Islamist charities. For the international community, the key is where to draw the line."