There have been many opinions about the make-up and goals of the Islamic Courts Union, formally known as the Council of Somali Islamic Courts.
Among those following developments in Somalia is regional analyst Mathew Bryden. From Nairobi, he told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua that a clearer picture of the Islamists has emerged over recent weeks, describing the ICU as a broad umbrella organization with many different parts and agendas.
“By and large, they are bifurcating into two main parts. One which is a fairly pragmatic authority that controls Mogadishu and its environs…and that group is by and large prepared to negotiate with other Somali authorities to try to come to some kind of national settlement. There’s another part of the courts, I would say a hard core…which is sort of ultra-nationalist, jihadist and militant group…they are ideology motivated and they seek to carry the jihad to every corner of Somalia,” he says.
Bryden says overall these two parts of the courts get along very well, but says there are some signs of strain of late “particularly with the next round of peace talks approaching, with some of the court leadership apparently committed to showing up in Khartoum and talking with the transitional government. And yet the militants within the courts pushing for military victory. Their forces are just outside the town of Baidoa where the government is based.”
The analyst says Ethiopia has legitimate security concerns in Somalia. These in include claims by some members of the courts to Ethiopian territory, courts support for Ethiopian rebels groups and possible links to al-Qaida. Ethiopia has admitted sending military advisers to assist the Somali government, but Bryden does not rule out Ethiopia confronting the ICU directly.