Tensions Simmer in Somalia Mogadishu on the Brink of a New War
As the African Union hesitates over sending a peacekeeping force into Somalia, Islamists and warlords are launching attacks against the government as the Americans hunt terrorists in the country's south.
If there is anyone who embodies the Somali tragedy it is Awil Tahalil Weheliyeh, a 35-year-old man who looks 60. A grenade shattered his left leg 10 years ago and left him with nothing but a stump. Despite his disability, Weheliyeh proudly carries a Kalashnikov over his shoulder and a belt around his waist filled with enough rounds of ammunition to storm an entire barracks.
He stands in front of an old colonial Art Deco villa from Somalia's days as an Italian colony. Early in the morning the sun shines into the bullet holes inflicted on the building's walls only a few weeks ago. Across the street is the Banadir Hospital, built with Chinese aid when Somalia was still ruled by the communists.
He stands, one-legged, on crutches in the heavily damaged street and smiles as he waves through Adnan Mohamed Kamal Zeiadah, an Egyptian surgeon who has volunteered to work in the hospital and treat people like Awil Tahalil.
"A fly-infested hellhole"
Sajada came to this country filled with optimism. A joint Ethiopian-Somali force was about to topple the Council of Islamic Courts, and for the first time in many years something resembling peace prevailed in the streets of the Somali capital Mogadishu. The Arab League and the Arab Doctors' Association were looking for courageous volunteers to help the country rebuild and treat its sick and wounded.
Sajada arrived in Mogadishu six weeks ago, armed with nine tons of drugs and equipment and accompanied by six like-minded Egyptian doctors. But six weeks can be an eternity in Somalia, this scene of destruction on the Horn of Africa. The British writer Gerald Hanley, who lived here 70 years before the Egyptian doctors arrived, called it a "fly infested hellhole," and for good reason.
"Look at these masses of the wounded," says Sajada, "in only the two hospitals that we manage, we receive at least 15 new patients with gunshot wounds every day, and now that number is about to rise." As if to emphasize his words, a salvo of gunfire rattles nearby.
Undeterred by the noise, Sajada bends over a 22-year-old man: "Salad Osman, gunshot to the head, was caught in crossfire, paralyzed from the neck down." The bed next to the severely injured man is empty because its occupant died recently. "But it won't stay that way for long," says the Egyptian.
Are the Islamists preparing a new war?
Only a month after the so-called transitional government and its Ethiopian backers assumed power, it seems clear that another armed conflict is brewing in Somalia. The clan militias, still well armed, are slowly emerging from the ruins now that the Islamists and their al-Qaida allies, who had previously ruled the country, have been defeated.
The Islamists have also begun re-emerging from their hiding places, now that the first 50 military trucks loaded with Ethiopian soldiers have left the city. Unless an agreement is reached quickly over a peacekeeping force for Somalia, the country could sink into civil war once again.
However, these countries have made it clear that they are only willing to send troops to keep the peace in a fellow AU member state if they receive European and American support. But so far the industrialized nations have offered only 15 million (European Union) and the equivalent of 31 million (United States). It appears that this is not enough for the Africans to intervene in Somalia. With each day that the AU delays its intervention, the risk of war grows.
The latest chapter in the war on terror being waged by the Americans and their Ethiopian allies could quickly end in a debacle. New attacks are already being reported almost daily -- be it a bazooka attack on a police station in the capital or a mortar attack on a barracks.
The presidential palace has been attacked with grenades and, according to the United Nations' "Situation Report No. 26," clan warfare -- Somalia's age-old problem -- has escalated in the Juba regions to the south. At the same time, an American AC-130 gunship has apparently launched repeated bombing strikes against presumed al-Qaida hideouts in southern Somalia from the US base in Djibouti. Because nomads and their goats and camels are often the collateral victims of such campaigns, threats against the foreigners, "these infidel devils," are on the rise.
"The entire country is on the brink of war," complains Abukar Sheikh Ali of Daryeel Bulsho Guud, a relief agency supported by German disaster relief organizations Diakonie Emergency Aid and Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World). "The government is weak and the militias are war-hardened," says Guud, adding that it is a huge mistake "that the Americans, with their continuous bombing campaigns, are hunting down a few individuals, all the while incurring the wrath of ordinary people."
This anger is reflected in daily protests against the new government, which began behaving dictatorially shortly after assuming power and promptly closed radio and television stations operated by Al-Jazeera, HornAfrik and Shabelle because of their critical reporting.
Members of the Ayr sub-clan, which is based in the capital and feels locked out of power because President Abdullah Ahmed Yussuf has not included any of their members in his cabinet, have staged uprisings in Mogadishu.
Life under the Islamists
During the seven months of Islamist rule, about 70 percent of the political and religious leadership came from the Ayr, which meant that they controlled a large portion of the country. They banned listening to music, watching football and chewing the popular drug Kat. They staged public executions and brought al-Qaida fighters into the country.
It is understandable that Yussuf, a member of the Darod clan, is avoiding the Ayr for this very reason. But in doing so he is playing with fire. To keep other warlords and clan leaders content he has included them in a confusingly large cabinet. He knows that once the Ethiopians have withdrawn he will be forced to bring about a consensus between the bitterly quarrelling clans. Although doing so could mean sealing a pact with the devil, it could be better for Yussuf than having them as enemies. His backers in Washington also seem to have come to the same realization and are now urging Yussuf to negotiate with Ayr veterans and moderate Islamists over a power-sharing arrangement, threatening to withdraw their support if he fails to comply. With this kind of pressure from his US protectors, the president has now agreed to invite his enemies to a reconciliation conference.
But Ali Mohammed Ali, one of the Ayr clan leaders, didn't receive an invitation. "Our clan suffers," he says, "the president has not spoken with us, nor has he spoken with the people from the Islamic courts." Ali is convinced that even the Islamists must be included in the peace process, insisting that they managed to gain considerable popular support despite their rigorous approach to governing the country. If they are excluded from power, says Ali, the Islamists will pose a permanent threat to their successors. "There are still thousands of weapons and thousands of their supporters in the country," according to Ali. It sounds a bit like a threat, probably intentionally so. A short time later, when grenades explode in the background and the sound of gunfire whips through the neighborhood, the clan leader smiles.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan