United States’ secret intervention aims to prevent an Islamic solution to Somali problems

Somalis have one language, one religion (Islam), and constitute a single ethnic group, and should not have found great –” let alone insurmountable –” difficulties in being united and living in peace together. Yet their country is in ruins, split into Somaliland, a former British protectorate in the north, and Somalia, a former Italian colony, in the south. Somaliland, which seceded after General Siad Barre was toppled in 1991, is in relative peace despite not being recognised by a single other government, while Somalia is ravaged by continuing civil war. The real problem is that Somalis in all regions are dominated by clan-divisions that are exploited to destroy the advantages of their religious and ethnic solidarity by those seeking political, business and other benefits. These include foreign powers, such as the US, which is determined to undermine the adoption of a political solution based on Islam, which is needed to generate the unity that can take the entire region out of its current turmoil.

There is little doubt that both Somalia and Somaliland need external assistance, not only to restore peace, security and the "failed state", but also to cope with the economic breakdown and poverty that are destroying the lives of many Somalis. The devastating drought now affecting the whole Horn of Africa has made friendly intervention all the more urgent. But although the "failed" Somali state was a member of the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Conference and the African Union, the members of those entities are not exactly eager to come to its rescue. In fact, some of them, such as Yemen, Djibouti and Ethiopia, are supporting the current US military intervention in Somalia, on the side of warlords fighting Islamic groups.

The US government initially tried to keep its military intervention secret, but was forced to admit it, trying to justify it by claiming that it was preventing al-Qa’ida from establishing a foothold in Somalia. A senior US-government official quoted in western newspapers on May 18, for instance, explained that "the president is not going to allow Somalia to become a safe haven for terrorists." Referring to al-Qa’ida in particular he added: "Currently there is great instability in Somalia. The US is concerned that in this environment al-Qa’ida may use Somalia as a base for terrorist activities around the globe. Around the world the US will work with regional and international partners to prevent countries from becoming terrorist safe havens." However, the US officials and spokesmen are determined not to name the group of warlords they are backing.

But it is obvious that the group of warlords and powerful businessmen Washington is funding and arming to fight the Islamic-oriented group, known as the Islamic Courts, is the self-styled Alliance fo the Restoration of Peace and Counter-terrorism (RPC), which is fighting for control of the capital, Mogadishu. In fact it is the Shari’ah Courts that provides the only limited health services and schooling in the capital. As its name indicates, the group runs Shari’ah courts that also provide the only judicial service available in the South. The group is accused of Islamic extremism because the courts apply the Shari’ah, even though there is no secular legislation in force in the entire country. The real extremists and terrorists, however, are the RPC and its American backers, who have brought more strife and bloodshed to Somalia.

In the confrontation between the two sides in mid-May alone at least 130 people were killed and 300 injured: an indication of the scale of the mayhem the US military intervention is bound to bring in its wake unless it is stopped. It is not strange that this intervention has been seen to have "striking parallels" with the invasion of Afghanistan, as, for instance, an editorial in the British Daily Telegraph on May 19 has done.

Under the heading "Afghanistan in the Horn", the editorial said: "There are striking parallels between Afghanistan before the Taliban seized power and the present state of Somalia. In each instance, Islamist forces promised to bring order to a chaotic situation and Washington decided to intervene after a long period of neglect. After September 2001 the US invaded Afghanistan to remove a government that was allegedly providing a haven for Usama bin Laden and the al-Qa’ida network. Today, it is believed to be financing arms supplies through Yemen and Ethiopia to a secular alliance in Somalia that is fighting Islamic militias for control of the capital, Mogadishu."

Another notable comparison between the two is the failure of the interventions to bring the peace and tranquillity the Americas claim are their intention. As in Afghanistan, the intervention is very unpopular in Somalia. In Mogadishu, for instance, large crowds have demonstrated against it, denouncing the US government as anti-Islamic and the warlords whom it is funding as traitors. "We do not want to be ruled by warlords taking money from Americans," they shouted. The interim government, headed by Abdullahi Yusuf, which is based in Kenya (where it was formed) and in the town of Baidoa in the south, is also against the intervention, calling on Washington to withdraw its military backing for the RCP and to negotiate with it. In fact, western analysts agree that Washington should back the interim administration and withdraw its support for the warlords, with some arguing that what Somalia needs is "development support" rather than a partisan infusion of more arms.

Western analysts are also unanimous in their belief that Washington’s current intervention will fail, as its disastrous intervention in Somalia did in 1993. It was president Clinton who ordered troops into the country then, but was forced to withdraw them after the shooting down of two Black Hawk helicopters and the deaths of 18 American soldiers. Interestingly, some of the warlords now backed by Bush were the targets of that assault.

But, for the current US intervention to be halted, the interim government needs to curb its enthusiasm for secularism. With Somalia so divided, the most reliable policy to restore peace and tranquillity is to give the Islamic solution a chance.