May 22, 2007

Somalia isn't Iraq

There has been bomb attacks in Mogadishu since the city fell to the Transitional Government. A number of civilians were killed in various attacks, the prime minister Ali Ghedi and Mayor of Mogadishu, former warlord Mohamed Dheere, have both survived roadside bombs and four Ugandan soldiers where killed. Is this a repeat of Iraq? it started with foreign troops, small-scale attacks and ended up in the chaos we witness today. Well, luckily Somalia isn't Iraq.

Iraq had a functioning government with trained, professional and sophisticated army that was disbanded. There is the ethnic Kurdish-Arab conflict as well as the Sunni-Shia political differences which later gave way to armed struggle. Add to it, Iraqi's neighbors who've both the motive to stir things up in Iraq and their ability to do so. Somalia doesn't have none of that.

All armed opposition and attacks against the government is limited to Mogadishu. Those carrying attacks are militiamen who untrained and have access to the most basic of weapons and explosives. There is no ethnic or religious struggle; but there two or three sub-sub-clans opposing the government and even their elders are coming-round to accepting the TFG. There are also no foreign fighters in Mogadishu. Neighboring governments of Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti all support the Transitional Government.

The attacks in Mogadishu are a product of the lawlessness in Mogadishu for the past 17 years. During these years not only did the militia fight in the streets but kidnapping, roadside bombs and assassinations were common. Lucky the structure that supported this mayhem, the warlords, have been broken and for the first time there's a government controlling the entire city of Mogadishu.

But the government and the Ethiopian troops insist that every attack or roadside bomb is by a Islamic Courts militia and terrorists. That is quite misleading, though it serves the purposes of the Ethiopians and the government (which is United State's unconditional support). In fact, most of the attacks are by militias and other criminals who had lost control over properties, businesses and checkpoints to the government.

Of course there's room for things to get out of hand, the first risk is the government; not only is the government short of resources but the competency of the president and the prime minister is in question. The Ethiopian presence beyond this point (after the militias were removed) will cause resentment and potential increase in attacks against the government, it might also undermine the government's legitimacy. The intentions of the Ethiopian government, beyond getting more aid from US, isn't clear, especially when you look at their consistent efforts to undermine the last government (there were Ethiopian troops in Somalia then, to the disapproval of the government).

The government is hoping the reconciliation conference scheduled for next month will give the government more legitimacy and a chance to rewrite the constitution. US and Europe want the reconciliation conference to settle all tribal and factional conflicts, and they have been putting pressure on the government to make changes to its plans for the reconciliation conference.

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