As reported in the Somalia thread, it looks like Ethiopia and the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) of Somalia are headed for a showdown. Stuck in the middle is the “interim governmnet” set up by the UN.
Let’s make a few things very clear about this fight.
1) The interim government has almost no indigenous support in Somalia. It was set up by the UN, it is protected militarily by the Ethiopians, with whom the Somalis have fought two wars in the past 30 years. Can you say “foreign puppet government?” Sure you can.
2) The Islamic Courts Union does have a lot of support in Somalia. Why? Because they run the schools, they run the clinics and the run the courts. They also went into Mogadishu and ended years of rapine (literally), looting and savagery on the part of the warlords who ran the place. And they were greeted as liberators. Even secular types who don’t like what they stand for in terms of social policy, mostly welcomed them, because waking up in the middle of the night to have a bunch of thugs pulling your daughter out of the house so they can rape her repeatedly is worse than a dose of feudal law.
3) Ethiopia is involved because they have a lot of indigenous Somalis in their country whom they treat very badly (the Ethiopian government treats everyone very badly.) If Somalia becomes a real country again they’re worried that they’ll support an upgrising amongst those tribesman, and maybe even start a full fledged war again. Better to smash the ICU now, when it’s weak, then fight it later when it’s strong. If they can’t smash it – well, at least they’re fighting the war on Somali turf, and not Ethiopian.
4) The role of al-Qa’eda. I don’t know how significant it is. There have been a lot of accusations thrown around, and bin Laden has called for fighters to go aid the ICU. It was, however, not necessary – recognition from other foreign powers, and supplies, could quite likely have convinced the ICU to forego such ties. But since the only places they can get weapons, support and trainers are al-Qa’eda and Eritrea – well, they must have those things, so they will get them from whom they must. This, by the way, appears to have been another case of the Defense/State cold war messing things up – State was interested in talking to the ICU, Defense was busy propping up the interim government.
5) If sovereigny comes from the people, then there can be no question that the only group in the country with any is the ICU. They certainly aren’t perfect, but a lot of Somalis are willing to fight and die for them, live under their rule without rebelling, etc… It’s very hard to make a case for the sort of intervention that Ethiopia is doing which does not do violence to the idea that people have the right to determine their own fates.
I don’t know if the ICU will win this – they’re going up against better equipped, better disciplined troops. I do know that Ethiopia can’t precisely win this – the ICU’s support is too widespread, but then Ethiopia doesn’t want to occupy Somalia, just keep it from developing an effective government. That they can do for quite a while – as long as they’re willing to bleed. And Ethipia has shown a lot of willingness to bleed interminably.
The losers of all of this will be ordinary Somalis.
One day I hope that the right to self determination will actually be given more than lip service. Until it is, groups like Hamas, Hezbolla, the Taliban, and the ICU will continue to be forced into radical hands – because that is the only place they can get the support they need to fight for the huge numbers of people who support them, becuase they are the only people who have ever looked after those people.
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