HomeFeaturesDailyBriefingsRapidReconSpecial ReportsAbout Us

InBrief Archives

Islamic Courts Union Consolidates Hold in Somalia

It was reported on Monday that Somalia’s secular interim government had reached an agreement in principle to form joint security forces with the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist socio-political and military movement which bears many resemblances to the Taliban. The agreement, which was negotiated in Khartoum and was to be monitored by the Arab League and the Sudan, was conditioned upon the reaching of a “broader political solution,” and included a provision barring intervention by “any neighboring states,” although it has been disputed since then whether or not this barred outside peacekeepers.

This latter issue is of special significance because both the United States and neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa are highly concerned that Somalia may already be well on its way to being a new base for global terrorism. A regional group, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is made up of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, the Sudan and Somalia, has been discussing sending in peacekeepers. Because of the special threat it could face, Ethiopia has threatened to send in troops on its own, and the ICU is alleging that it already has.

The ICU’s takeover of Somalia got a boost in July as it defeated the U.S.-backed Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism and took Mogadishu, and has since then expanded control over much of the rest of the country, enforcing Islamic law, bringing in weapons and setting up training camps for its forces. Now the “legitimate” government based in the provincial town of Baidoa, vastly outnumbered and outgunned, has reached a lopsided agreement with the ICU that appears to be more an act of desperation than anything.

The reason that the rise of the ICU raises so much concern is in part related to the background of some of its leading figures, but also to the ICU’s conduct in areas it has controlled. While the ICU’s original leader, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, has been viewed as relatively moderate, power has shifted to Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is believed to be an al-Qaeda ally and whose protege, Adan Hashi Ayro, reportedly trained in Afghanistan prior to the U.S.-led intervention there in 2001. Allied with the ICU is the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (AIAI). As they have moved through the country, province-by-province, the ICU has acted like the Taliban of the 1990s, inviting militants from the Arab world and Pakistan to work in training camps, disarming those not belonging to the ICU’s militias, banning music and even shooting two people who protested not being able to watch the World Cup semifinal. (Jamestown Foundation, Weekly Standard - Night Falls on Mogadishu, Weekly Standard - The New Taliban)

The problem for the IGAD, aside from its own internal divisions, is that there is still a United Nations embargo in place which prevents the bringing of weapons into the country. It seems that Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda are the countries pushing to intervene with “peacekeepers” and prevent the establishment of an ICU government. Like the UN arms embargo on Bosnia during the 1990s, this weapons ban will merely empower the more aggressive party. While the interim government, led by President Abdallahi Yusuf, is seeking IGAD intervention, ICU leaders are declaring that sending IGAD peacekeepers will mean war. If the embargo is not lifted, then Ethiopia and its allies could simply ignore the embargo, as the United States was apparently doing by backing the anti-ICU coalition before. Also, the African Union will need to release the funds necessary for the mission. (Reuters, Wall Street Journal/AP)

The fact that this “agreement in principle” to unify security forces was made dependent upon a political resolution likely means that it will collapse or that it will be implemented by the surrender of the interim government. Denied reinforcement from outside and vastly outmatched at this point, Yusuf’s government really has no hope aside from an IGAD intervention. Furthermore, that the talks were mediated by the Arab League and the Sudanese government in Khartoum should reinforce the impression that this agreement provides no security to the weaker party. The Arab League, it should be remembered, has unconditionally defended the Sudanese government over the crisis in Darfur regardless of how many reports have surfaced of government-backed militias pillaging villages, raping women and making refugees of hundreds of thousands of people.