Ethiopia moves closer to open war in Somalia

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Ethiopia –” which already has thousands of troops in Somalia, ostensibly to protect the tiny and powerless transitional government –” appears about to launch full-scale war against the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which controls most of the war-torn country, including the capital, Mogadishu, and is trying to restore Somali unity. It is in Ethiopia’s strategic interest that Somalia continues to be a failed state nominally managed by a weak government that is controlled by it and its allies through the UN. This is exactly what Addis Ababa and its allies thought had been achieved by the establishment of the transitional government under UN auspices in 2004 and the despatch of 5,000 Ethiopian troops, under US pressure, to protect it.

But the situation was completely transformed last June when the ICU toppled the transitional government, took control of Mogadishu and most of the country, and restored a good measure of peace and tranquillity, which had been rare for the past 15 years. Most of the people supported the ICU not only because of the restoration of peace and the lack of corruption in the management of their affairs, but also because of the transitional government’s close relations with Addis Ababa and the US. Most of its members were warlords who had fought Siyad Barre and, after defeating him with US assistance, divided public wealth and power among themselves. The president, Abdullahi Yusuf, is known to be a strong Ethiopian ally; some would say Ethiopia’s agent. If Somalis are united in one thing, it is in their belief that Ethiopia is an enemy of Somalia and that any Somalis allied to it should be banned from public life, at least.

The success of the ICU and the failure of the interim government to attract public support has alarmed the US and Addis Ababa to the extent of engaging in an absurd propaganda war. The US, for instance, claims that al-Qa’ida extremists are backing the ICU not only with arms and funds but also with trained fighters. It has now openly admitted its presence in Somalia, though denying it has any troops there. The US under-secretary of state for Africa recently told the BBC World Service that the US is active in Somalia to collect intelligence information about the activities of al-Qa’ida and other "terrorists" there and prevent them from establishing a base that will engulf the entire region in a costly conflict. Ethiopia also admits that it has sent military trainers to Somalia to help the transitional government to acquire a proper armed force that can help it fight terrorists. It denies sending any troops, although media reports by western journalists confirm it has sent thousands of them.

Both the US and Addis Ababa also claim that Eritrea has a large military force in the country to protect the ICU against the transitional government’s attempts to disarm it. Even more absurdly, both say that Muslim countries like Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are helping the Islamic movement not only with funds but also with arms. But even more unbelievably, the UN has cooperated with them to give credence to those absurd claims.

A UN report recently accused 11 countries of fuelling the conflict in the country by supplying arms. It also made the ridiculous claim that Somali fighters fought alongside Hizbullah against Israel in the summer’s war in Lebanon. Unbelievably, the UN report also alleged that Iran tried to buy uranium from the ICU in exchange for weapons. The report did not explain how and when uranium has been mined by a fledgling Islamic movement fighting for its survival in a country mired in conflict. Journalists commenting on this recalled a UN report making a similar claim against Saddam Husain just before the US invaded Iraq. Several regional experts also dismissed the claims made in the report.

With the UN preparing the ‘moral’ basis for an international intervention to remove the ICU and restore the transitional government in Baidoa to power, it was only natural for Addis Ababa to prepare an attack on its neighbour, and for the US to encourage it. Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian prime minister, recently announced that his country was prepared to take on the ICU and remove it from power to protect his country against the danger it posed. He has told Ethiopia’s parliament that the ICU poses a "clear and present danger" to his country.

"When any country faces that type of danger it has the full right to defend itself against this threat… To exercise this right, we have been preparing for this kind of resistance because it is our responsibility," Zenawi said. But opposition MPs–” who are friends of Somalia and the ICU –” see his statement as propaganda and criticise it openly, saying that it amounts to "a declaration of war".

The ICU, far from being intimidated by this declaration of war, has declared that it is ready and determined to defend its country against a "war-thirsty enemy". True to its promise, it sent fighters to the border with Ethiopia on November 26, only two days after Zenawi’s declaration of war. With Zenawi saying that he would not seek UN approval for the attack, and given Washington’s support for it, the stage is set for Somalia to be invaded. The result will be chaos and bloodshed such as the war-torn country has not seen before. Yet the ‘international community’ seems not much concerned. Nor are the members of the Arab League, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, named by the report as helping the ICU, bothered, despite the fact that Somalia is a member of the Arab League. It is clear that if the people of Somalia want the ICU, then they have to fight and prevail alone.

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