Monday, December 22, 2008

Somalia update

So, it's official (almost): the Ethiopians are leaving Somalia and the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab is likely to take over the parts of Somalia that haven't already seceded. Al-Shabaab is far more radical and strict in its interpretation of Islam than the Islamic Courts Union that reigned in Somalia before the 2006 US-backed Ethiopian invasion. So, by expelling what we now know were comparatively moderate Islamists (the ICU), the US and Ethiopia sewed the seeds for the current al-Shabaab takeover.

And with the conflict between first the ICU and the Ethiopian-backed TFG, and now the TFG and al-Shabaab comes death and destruction. I reported last month that the war in Somalia has been deadlier than the one in Iraq by some measures, but since then, the estimates of the death toll have only gotten worse – from about 10,000 civilians to more than 16,000 killed directly because of the conflict.

In addition to the deaths, life for the living is becoming increasingly difficult as they flee the war-torn urban areas that offer respite from the barren Somali hinterlands, where a humanitarian disaster is now brewing. As the Washington Post reports:

Out of a population of about 9 million, more than 1 million people have fled their homes, preferring drought-stricken regions of the country to the crossfire of militias battling for control of Mogadishu and other areas. Attacks on aid workers – most likely carried out by the Shabab, who equate them with foreign interference – have made humanitarian assistance almost impossible to deliver.

Also, something I didn't mention in previous posts about Somalia is that even before the 2006 invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia (backed by American money and diplomatic efforts), the US was supporting the warlords that the ICU would make its call to war.

At pretty much every step of the way since the fall of the Barre dictatorship throughout the 1980s, the United States has intervened in Somali affairs and it's backfired every single time – from its support of the warlords in the early '90s that resulted in the infamous Black Hawk Down episode, to the pre-2006-ish support for the warlords that enraged the moderate Islamists, to the current support of the Ethiopian proxy government that's enraging the extremist Islamists. Luckily, this time around there's little popular support for either a UN- or American-backed mission/invasion of the country, but that might change if American Democrats change their tune about "nation-building" and missions abroad now that the right guy is in power.

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