Somalia, Somalia war
Mohamed Sheikh Nor/AP
A civilian, centre, walks past two Ethiopian soldiers. left, and Somali goverment forces on
top of a truck outside Villa Somalia.

Somalia’s Descent into Chaos Predicted

October 30, 2008 09:37 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Somalia was hit by five suicide bombs today, an indication of what experts have suggested could be a new era of violent civil unrest stemming from Ethiopian occupation.

The Rise of Shabab

In the past two months, Ethiopian forces have been withdrawing from Somalia, and are expected to continue doing so, regardless of whether they are replaced by UN stabilizing forces, according to Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science at Purdue University.

In an article published on, Weinstein said an absence of Ethiopian forces would likely set the stage “for a scramble for power among the fragmented factions” of the reemerging Islamic Courts Union, “forcing each of them into a posture of pro-active self-defense.” Ultimately, civil war would ensue.

Weinstein’s predictions seem to be coming true. On Wednesday, two northern regions of Somalia were struck by five suicide car bomb attacks in 15 minutes. Somali government offices and United Nations buildings were hit, and dozens are thought dead or wounded in what had been a relatively calm area, according to The New York Times.

The attacks, which occurred in Puntland and in the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa, could “have been timed to coincide” with a Nairobi, Kenya, meeting of transitional government leaders and foreign supporters. Militant Islamic groups did not receive invitations to the meeting.

Faisal Hayle, a security official for Somalia’s transitional government, blamed the attack on the militant Islamic group the Shabab, considered a terrorist organization by the United States. Hayle’s accusation has not been confirmed.

In its ongoing battle with the transitional government, the Shabab has focused most of its attacks in south central Somalia. But last February, Reuters reported that the group had taken credit for deadly bombings in the Puntland region, which resulted in the deaths of “at least 20 Ethiopian immigrants,” including the wives and children of Ethiopian soldiers.

The U.S. government classified the Shabab “as a terrorist organization” in March 2008, after the group carried out vicious attacks on Ethiopian and Somali soldiers, including three beheadings at a checkpoint near Mogadishu. The Shabab has also expressed praise for Osama bin Laden, according to Voice of America news.

Weinstein writes that with Washington “in a state of ‘paralysis’ on Somalia,” the country could be right back where it started before the “aborted revolution” of the Islamic Courts Union in 2006.

Background: The Islamic Courts Union

To grasp the complexity of Somalia’s crisis, an understanding of the Islamic Courts Union is crucial. According to a BBC news profile, the Somali group is led by a moderate Muslim but includes extremists. Most Somalis have supported the group because it has forced out violent warlords, bringing order to Somalia for the first time in decades in 2006.

The United States has been wary of the courts’ possible al-Qaida affiliation.

By July 2006, hundreds of members of the Union of Islamic Courts congregated in Baidoa, then the home of Somalia’s “largely powerless government,” and were ready to attack. Ethiopia’s Minister of Information, Berhan Hailu, claimed Ethiopia had to defend itself and Somalis from the Islamists, reported The Washington Post. The United States had already linked the Islamic Courts Union to al-Qaida, and promptly gave Ethiopia a green light to invade. 

Related Topic: How the U.S. armed, trained Ethiopia

In April 2006, the U.S. military organized and conducted a “border security class” for Ethiopian soldiers, as part of the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa program. A portion of the class was taught by Ethiopian instructors, who had been trained by U.S. soldiers in preparation for the three-week course.

U.S. Sgt. Ryan Castro told the American Forces Press Service, “The Ethiopians regard being chosen for this class as a huge step. They love it and eat it up.”

In Jan. 2007, officials from the Bush administration “allowed Ethiopia” to secretly purchase arms from North Korea. The deal happened just three months after the United States had convinced the UN “to impose strict sanctions on North Korea because of the country’s nuclear test,” according to the International Herald Tribune.

Although it backed Ethiopia’s deal with North Korea, the United States said it would continue to “press Ethiopia not to make future purchases,” the Tribune reported. The United States permitted the arms deal partly because of the ongoing military operations between Ethiopia and Somali Islamic militias.

Opinion & Analysis: Blindness to Muslim nuance

In a recent editorial, Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times discussed al-Qaida’s endorsement of Sen. John McCain. The endorsement led Kristof to shed light on what he sees as a related issue: radical Islamists’ preference for a continuation of the Bush administration’s conservative ideology, specifically a tendency toward military intervention over diplomacy. According to Kristof such policies make it easier for al-Qaida to recruit and incite militants. He believes Somalia’s situation is a case of American “blindness to nuance in the Muslim world.”

Furthermore, U.S. support of the Ethiopian invasion has fueled anti-American sentiment in Somalia. Patrick Duplat, a Somalia expert at Refugees International, told The New York Times he’d witnessed a call “for jihad against America” at a mosque during his last visit to Somalia, something he’d never heard there before 2006.

U.S. Policy toward Somalia has oscillated between engagement and neglect” since 1992, according NPR’s “All Things Considered.” But after 9/11, the United States began supporting “Somalis who identified themselves as enemies of terrorism–some of whom were disreputable warlords.” 

In 2006, when the United States gave Ethiopia the go-ahead to invade, an expert on the region told NPR, “I think what’s required now is restraint, wisdom, moderation and talking … It can’t be solved by force.”

Reference: Somalia’s story


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