Somalia: The Tough Part Is Ahead
Somalia’s Islamic Courts fell even more dramatically than they rose. In little more than a week in December 2006, Ethiopian and Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces killed hundreds of Islamist fighters and scattered the rest in a lightning offensive. On 27 December, the Council of Somali Islamic Courts in effect dissolved itself, surrendering political leadership to clan leaders. This was a major success for Ethiopia and the U.S. who feared emergence of a Taliban-style haven for al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremists, but it is too early to declare an end to Somalia’s woes. There is now a political vacuum across much of southern Somalia, which the ineffectual TFG is unable to fill. Elements of the Courts, including Shabaab militants and their al- Qaeda associates, are largely intact and threaten guerrilla war. Peace requires the TFG to be reconstituted as a genuine government of national unity but the signs of its willingness are discouraging. Sustained international pressure is needed. The Courts’ defeat signals the return of clan-based politics to southern Somalia. Whereas the Courts drew their support predominantly from the Hawiye clan, the TFG is widely perceived as dominated by Darod clan interests. TFG leaders reinforced this perception by pursuing policies that further alienated the Hawiye, notably an appeal for foreign troops and the government’s relocation to Jowhar and then Baidoa, instead of Mogadishu. Hawiye alienation and TFG inadequacies left a vacuum into which the Courts expanded between June and December 2006, bringing a degree of peace and security unknown to the south for more than fifteen years. Mogadishu was reunited, weapons removed from the streets and the port and airport reopened. By December, the Courts had expanded from their Mogadishu base to control most of the territory between the Kenyan border and the autonomous region of Puntland in the north east, while the TFG was confined to Baidoa, protected by its Ethiopian backers. Communities seemed prepared to tolerate a strict interpretation of Sharia law in return for peace and security.