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Analyst says Somalia a Handicap for Ethiopia


The al-Qaida terrorist organization has issued a call for Islamic extremists around the world to come to the aid of Somalis fighting the country's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and its chief backer in the region, Ethiopia. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, Ethiopia, which still has thousands of troops in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, is facing a threat it had hoped it had eliminated, when Ethiopia's military dismantled the leadership of Somalia's Islamist movement last December.

Appearing recently in an Internet video on al-Qaida's official media Web site, a prominent leader in the organization, Abu Yahya al-Libi, said it was the duty of all Muslim holy warriors to go to Somalia and help Somalis end what he called "the occupation of Abbyssinians and their apostate lackeys."

Speaking in Arabic, Libi urged Muslim fighters to "let the volcano erupt" in Somalia by waging an Iraq-style guerrilla war against Ethiopia and anyone supporting the secular government Ethiopia helped install in power three months ago.

Analyst Richard Cornwell at the Institute of International Studies in South Africa says he is not surprised that Ethiopia is now high on al-Qaida's list of enemies.

"This has been the problem ever since the Ethiopian invasion," he said. "They were going to create the monster they were aiming to prevent."

Cornwell is referring to anti-Western, Muslim extremists, whom he says are steadily gaining ground in Somalia, because of miscalculations by the Ethiopian government.

Cornwell argues that the main reason Ethiopia wanted to end the rule of Somalia's Islamic Courts Union was to prevent Islamist leaders from giving support to rebel groups in the ethnically-Somali Ogaden and Oromo regions of Ethiopia and to Ethiopia's archrival, Eritrea.

But to carry out a full-scale invasion of Somalia, Cornwell says Ethiopia needed the support of the United States. To enlist U.S. support, Ethiopia emphasized the threat of growing al-Qaida influence inside the courts.

The Islamists' military chief, Adan Hashi Ayro, was an al-Qaida-trained radical, who is believed to have harbored terrorists wanted for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa. Ayro was also the founder and leader of a radical Somali youth movement called the Shabbab.

"The al-Qaida card was a card the Ethiopians played to get the Americans on board," he explained.

That action brought Ethiopia on a collision course with not only al-Qaida, but extremists and nationalists inside Somalia's Islamist movement. After the fall of the movement, many of them remained in Mogadishu, simmering in anger and vowing revenge.

The defeat of the Islamic Courts Union also re-opened bitter clan divisions in southern Somalia that has placed Ethiopia at the center of a brewing conflict.

The Islamists drew much of their support from the Hawiye clan, the dominant clan in Mogadishu. But the government Ethiopia supports, the Transitional Federal Government, is perceived to be dominated by the interests of Hawiye's chief rival, the Darod clan.

The TFG's president, Abdullahi Yusuf, is a Darod and Hawiye clan elder Abdullahi Sheik Hassan says President Yusuf has reinforced this perception by pursuing policies that have alienated the Hawiye.

The Hawiye leader says when President Yusuf has says he has met with Hawiye leaders, he means only those Hawiye clan members he knows in his government. Hassan says Yusuf is still refusing to meet with Hawiye leaders and supporters of the Islamic Courts Union, whose participation in government, he believes, is vital to stabilizing Somalia.

Last week, when Ethiopian and government troops started entering some neighborhoods in Mogadishu to disarm the residents by force, the event triggered the most intense violence the capital has seen in years.

The violence included the burning of two Ethiopian and government soldiers, numerous mortar and rocket attacks, fierce street battles, and the downing of a cargo plane at Mogadishu Airport.

The government said disarming the city was necessary to ensure the safety of some 3,000 Somalis, who are expected to gather in Mogadishu next month for a government-sponsored, clan-based reconciliation conference.

Many Hawiye members, especially supporters of the Islamic Courts Union, say they view the disarmament process as a Darod attempt to sideline and weaken the Hawiye.

Richard Cornwell says he believes Ethiopia, as the chief backer of the interim government, must intervene forcefully in the dispute now or risk being sucked into a civil war that could spread into other areas of East Africa.

"The TFG has to be sent a very firm message: Our support for you, although you are a recognized government, is not unconditional," he added. "You will either talk to your enemies and make peace with them - not an imposed peace, but a real peace - or we walk away and leave you to your own devices."

Several Somalis in Mogadishu contacted by VOA say that they believe al-Qaida is trying hard to exploit a volatile situation in their country, but it still lacks popular support.

But they warn if Ethiopia, the United States and others in the international community, fail to persuade the interim government into being more inclusive, groups like al-Qaida may find large numbers of potential recruits in Somalia, especially among those who feel hopeless about their future.

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