30/12/2006 12:00 AM (UAE)
Undeterred by the horrors and setbacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the Bush administration has succeeded in opening another battlefront in the Muslim world. With full US backing and military training, at least 15,000 Ethiopian troops have entered Somalia in an illegal war of aggression against the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which until three days ago, controlled almost the entire south of the country.
As with Iraq in 2003, the US has cast this as a war to curtail terrorism, but its real goal is to obtain a direct foothold in a highly strategic region by establishing a client regime there. The Horn of Africa is newly oil-rich, and lies just miles across from Saudi Arabia, overlooking the daily passage of large numbers of oil tankers and warships through the Red Sea. US General John P. Abizaid, the current Iraq war military chief, was in Ethiopia this month, and Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia earlier this year to pursue oil and trade agreements.
The US instigation of war between Ethiopia and Somalia, two of the world's poorest countries already struggling with massive humanitarian disasters, is reckless in the extreme. Unlike in the run-up to Iraq, independent experts, including from the European Union, were united in warning that this war could destabilize the whole region even if the US succeeds in its goal of toppling the Islamic Courts. An insurgency by Somalis, millions of who live in Kenya and Ethiopia, would surely ensue, and create and attract thousands of new anti-US militants and terrorists.
With so much of the world convulsed by crisis, little attention has been paid to this unfolding disaster in the Horn. Even Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, who last Sunday condemned the "ignorant" policy on Iraq that made Muslims believe that there was a crusade against them, did not refer to this new war, even though it will exacerbate the divisions he highlighted.
The United Nations Security Council, however, did take up the issue. In another craven act that will further cement its reputation as an anti-Muslim body, it bowed to US and UK pressure to authorize a regional peacekeeping force to enter Somalia to protect the transitional "government" that is fighting the Islamic Courts. This government was created outside Somalia by US allies and, until two days ago, only controlled the small town of Baidoa. What gives the UN the right to intervene on behalf of one of the parties struggling for political supremacy?
The new UN resolution states that the world body acted to achieve "peace and stability" in Somalia. But all major international news organizations have reported that the country finally experienced this year its first respite from 16 years of utter lawlessness and terror at the hands of marauding warlords who drove out UN peace keepers by killing 18 American soldiers in 1993.
Since then, there had been no Security Council interest in sending peace keepers there, but as peace and order took hold, a multilateral force was suddenly deemed necessary - because it was the Islamic Courts Union that had brought about this stability.
Astonishingly, the Islamists had succeeded in defeating the warlords primarily through rallying people to their side by establishing law and order through the application of Sharia law, which Somalis universally practice.
The transitional government, on the other hand, is dominated by the warlords and terrorists who drove out American forces in 1993. This government is entirely unviable, having been organized in Kenya by US regional allies; it is so completely devoid of internal support that it turned to Somalia's archenemy, Ethiopia, for assistance in holding on even to Baidoa.
The United States opposes the Islamic Courts, saying they support terrorism, but the only "proof" of this inclination is a misinformation campaign that included a forged letter, along the lines of the one that detailed Iraq's attempt to buy yellow cake [uranium] from Niger, that predicted imminent suicide bombings and assassinations by Courts' followers in Kenya and Ethiopia.
There are some UIC members who have a terror history, but their collective pool of terror acts is dwarfed by the terrorism of the warlords the US has been supporting in a blatant violation of a UN arms embargo on Somalia.
If this war continues, it will affect the whole region and also do serious harm to US interests and threaten Kenya, the only island of stability in this corner of Africa. Ethiopia is at even greater risk as a dictatorship with little popular support and beset also by large internal revolts. It is also mired in a conflict with Eritrea, which has denied it secure access to seaports that it now seeks in Somalia.
The best antidote to terrorism in Somalia is stability, which the Islamic Courts have provided. The Islamists have strong public support, which has grown in the face of US and Ethiopian interventions. As in other Muslim-Western conflicts, the world needs to engage with the Islamists to secure peace.
-Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Salim Lone, former spokesman for the UN mission in Iraq in 2003, is a columnist for the Daily Nation in Kenya.