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The Calm Before The Storm

All signs have been pointing to a potential clash between the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TGF) entrenched in Baidoa. The most recent advances made by the ICU, and the subsequent responses made by the TFG and its allies, have only amplified this possibility. It appears now that Somalia has reached the point of no return and now rests on the brink of a conflict that could have significant international ramifications.

On September 25th, the ICU surrounded and captured the southern port city of Kismayo located 260 miles south of Mogadishu. Kismayo is the third largest city in Somalia and is considered to be one of the key strategic cities that the ICU has taken over. The Islamist militias entered Kismayo the day after former Jubaa Valley Alliance leader and Defense Minister for the TFG, Baare Hiirale, fled. After initial demonstrations protested the ICU’s takeover, the city now seems to be in line with the Islamists.

Since the fall of Kismayo, the towns of Afmadow, Bu’alle, and Sakow have also fallen under the Islamists’ control. The seizure of these towns has not only allowed the ICU to effectively encircle Baidoa even more, it has also placed their militias closer to the Kenyan border. This is significant because Kenya has been flooded recently with Somali refugees seeking to flee from the ICU’s control. It may not have done much good since the potential for the ICU’s expansion into north-east Kenya is now not out of the realm of possibility. To prepare for this, Kenyan officials have undergone and completed anti-insurgency and anti-terrorist training.

As if this situation wasn’t enough of a concern, the ICU is now preparing to establish an Upper Islamic Council which according to Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys will “eventually rule the whole country, [but] for now… will unify the Islamic courts which control 27 local authorities in Somalia.” Ostensibly, the Upper Islamic Council will serve as a foil to the weak Transitional Federal Government by consolidating all of the ICU’s areas, and their militias, into one unified entity. This could spell trouble for the TFG, whose grip on power, for intents and purposes, has been dismantled.

All is not lost though. The TFG has recently received reinforcements from Ethiopia. At least 30 vehicles were seen passing through Baidoa to set up in the Daynunay military barracks outside the city. Since being there, they have set up road blocks on all the streets leading in and out of Baidoa. Additionally, Somalia’s military officers are reportedly receiving munitions from Ethiopia. Finally, although Kenya was reconsidering its support of the TFG, the recent ICU advances towards its border may cause it to maintain whatever relationship it has with the TFG . With the aid of both Ethiopia and Kenya, the TFG has seemingly been given a considerable boost.

Thus, the stage seems to be set and both sides appear to be readying their plans. This escalation may prove to be simply that, an escalation. However, senior Islamic official Mohammad Wali Sheikh Ahmed recently proclaimed that “the time of ambiguity and hypocrisy has ended. By God, we will wage a holy war against our enemies.” If this declaration says anything, it says that war is most likely on the horizon.