Iraqization of Somalia Could Widen the Divide between the West and the Islamic World

As the international community embarks on a frantic diplomatic quest to extinguish the raging political and sectarian fire in Iraq, fatalist ideologues within the Bush administration, in partnership with certain money-motivated regional political powerbrokers, are busy igniting another one in Somalia.

Remnants of the Neocons led by John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the UN, are stubbornly pursuing their bankrupt ideology based on the ill-advised perception that ‘all Islamists are irredeemable extremists’ and that ‘force is the only means to deal with them’.

The Ambassador succeeded in getting a highly controversial resolution adopted by the UN Security Council in the face of various friendly warnings (including the European Union) who thought forced intervention would cause unnecessary deaths, destruction, and unprecedented refugee crises as other countries in the Horn might be drawn into a bloody struggle.

The resolution mandates partial lifting of the arms embargo on Somalia and approves a military intervention by African nations despite repeated objections by the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) who said they would consider any foreign intervention as an act of war.

The ICU’s position on this issue is popular among Somalis who are already outraged that an estimated 8000 Ethiopian troops are illegally deployed in various strategic locations in Somalia, and see this military intervention initiative as an ill-intentioned plan masterminded by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia (Somalia’s nemesis par excellence).

Just last week, Dec 2nd, I attended a conference to promote peace and unity in Somalia. The conference was held in the Center for International and Strategic Studies (Washington, DC) and attracted over one hundred Somali intellectuals, scholars, diplomats, and political activists who came from various cities in North America.

The prevalent theme was that externally, Meles Zenawi is playing a menacing role to keep Somalia divided, and his vicious “fear and smear campaign” has, by and large, been successful and that it is a matter of time before he is given the green light to invade Somalia (preferably unilaterally as there is a precedent) and “crush” the Islamists next door.

And internally, ICU, with its various shortcomings, is the best thing that happened to Somalia in the past 16 years. And due to a severe shortage of technocrats and civil servants, the courts suffer from lack of capacity in areas of diplomacy and overall governance; as such, they ought to be supported and, on the other hand, pressured to continue their dialogue with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and to reach a power-sharing agreement them- it is the only way to sustain peace.

Two weeks earlier, the Ethiopian people expressed their opposition to any military intervention that they see as their Prime Minister’s attempt to smokescreen his internal human rights abuses. During the Addis Ababa Marathon some 25,000 people have turned the event into spontaneous anti-war demonstration denouncing Prime Minister Zenawi’s obsessive itch for a preemptive war” against Somalia. The crowd was reportedly chanting “No to the Meles war”.

Could this intervention be a diversionary tactic to disguise the draconian measures exercised by the Ethiopian Prime Minister in order to hang onto power, or perhaps a desperate effort to resuscitate a dying ideology?

Whatever it may be, skepticism is high. In the blogsphere and in popular Somali websites many are wondering: how is a country abandoned by the world to die a slow death in the hands of its ruthless warlords all of a sudden attracting worldwide attention? Why is Somalia now the center of gravity?

The controversial military intervention is not without a pretext; though the 86-page report by The Monitoring Group made a variety of claims that many analysts considered outlandish political claptrap. The report, ironically, is peppered with various allegations similar to those used to justify the war of Iraq. The parallel to the pre Iraq invasion is curiously staggering if not eerily haunting. Most of the critical elements that made the war on Iraq possible are at hand as Meles Zenawi declared “we are ready” to take on ICU.

There is the demonized entity that perfectly fits the role… as some in the ICU leadership have threatened to call on a world-wide jihad (the mother of all wars) should they be invaded. There is also the allegation that ICU exported 720 of its army (Al Shabaab or The Youth) to help Hezbollah against Israel, and gave access to Iranian scientists to explore uranium in Dhusa Mareb reminiscent of the “yellow cake” purchase in Niger.

However, if there was one particular thing that discredited the report it has to be the claim that ICU has sent one fourth of its estimated 3000 Al Shabaab militia at a time when they were struggling for their own survival against the warlords to an entity that they have no known ties with and for a cause (defensive jihad) that they were already in the middle of.

Make no mistake, the resolution at hand is not going to advance peace; if any, it would radicalize ICU and give the extremists the upper hand. The resolution, I am afraid, would be seen as the second phase of ‘Operation Dung Beetle’- the covert action fiasco of last summer that brought the US in an unholy alliance with the most despised warlords.