Mogadishu street violence sign of deeper insurgency
By Katie Nguyen |March 22 (Reuters)
Crowds of angry Somalis dragging soldiers’ bodies through Mogadishu streets were the most chilling scenes of violence in the Somali capital since government forces and their allies defeated the Islamists three months ago. But there could be worse to come as the Ethiopian-backed government and African peacekeepers struggle to quell an apparently intensifying insurgency, analysts and diplomats say.
They say the Islamists who seized the capital and much of the south before being defeated in an Ethiopian-led offensive are trying to regroup in Mogadishu, having vowed in their retreat to wage holy war against foreign troops on Somali soil.
The presence in Mogadishu of Afghanistan-trained commander Aden Hashi Ayro, who leads the Islamists’ military Shabab wing, suggests the insurgency is becoming more organised, according to the Somali deputy defence minister.
“I fully expected there would be more violence before there is less,” U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger told reporters in Nairobi.
The burning of five uniformed bodies on Wednesday in full view of television cameras recalled the events of 1993, when Somalis treated the corpses of U.S. soldiers in the same way, hastening the U.S. withdrawal from the Horn of Africa nation.
Whether the bodies were Ethiopian or Somali, their treatment was a display of anger at a disarmament operation by government troops, hostility to the clan that dominates the government, and a warning to African peacekeepers that they are not wanted.
“It could be a turning point,” said Michael Weinstein, a Somali expert and analyst with Power and Interest News Report. “The possibility for broader insurrection is opening up.”
AFRICAN UNION PEACEKEEPERS
The threat of more violence will make it harder for African leaders to send the troops needed for the proposed 8,000-strong AU peacekeeping force. A vanguard of 1,200 Ugandans have gone in, but pledges from Burundi, Malawi, Ghana and Nigeria take the number only to 4,000 and it is unclear when they will deploy.
“They should be prepared to send their soldiers back in body bags. It’s going to be a bloodbath,” said a veteran security expert with experience in Somalia.
This week’s violence will make it hard for Ethiopia, which invaded to stiffen the weak government and prevent the emergence of an Islamist state on its doorstep, to complete its withdrawal from a country whose nationalism its presence has aroused.
“(Ethiopian) Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is stuck between having to stay there and satisfy the U.S. and wanting to get out. I would expect he’s paralysed,” Weinstein said.
“Ethiopia’s simple aim is to keep Somalia off balance, but … the U.S. is concerned with establishing stability in Somalia to avoid a breeding ground for terrorism.”
Any Islamist-led resistance is likely to exploit deep rifts in Somali society between rival clans and warlord-run militias, amid overall hostility to any foreign intervention.
“You have extremist elements of the Islamic courts which are seeking to reorganize. You see elements of warlordism still being active. You have literally criminal gangs and the unemployed which mix into that security soup,” Ranneberger said.
Scores of civilians have been killed in fighting since the government entered Mogadishu and residents have born the brunt of almost daily guerrilla attacks which they say are aggravated by the presence of the government’s foreign allies.
Many people in Mogadishu, where the Hawiye clan holds sway, complain that President Abdullahi Yusuf favours his Darod clan and is trying to marginalise them economically and politically.
One Somali analyst, who did not want to be named, said the timing of a government-led drive to disarm residents before a reconciliation conference due next month was “disastrous”.
“It doesn’t make sense to carry out a security operation before reconciliation talks because the people you are fighting (to disarm) will not want to talk,” he said.