A key military ally of the U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government in Somalia is accusing the government of negotiating in bad faith, describing a recent political agreement between the two sides as "broken." The statement comes amid an offensive by al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants in the capital.
A leader of the Sufi Islamic militia, Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a, says his group is deeply frustrated by the lack of progress on an agreement signed in March between his group and Somalia's U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government.
Sheik Mohamoud Hassan Farah says the accord has collapsed because the government has not fulfilled any of the promises it has made to Ahlu-Sunna.
The agreement, signed in neighboring Ethiopia, would have given the Sufi group key ministerial posts in the Somali government in return for military support to defeat al-Shabab, an al-Qaida proxy that is battling to overthrow the government in Mogadishu and consolidate its control throughout the country.
Ahlu-Sunna took up arms against al-Shabab in late December 2008, angered by al-Shabab's extremist and intolerant attitude toward Sufi Muslim traditions and practices. Since then, militias loyal to Ahlu-Sunna have been instrumental in stalling, and in some cases pushing back, al-Shabab's efforts to gain control over Ahlu-Sunna strongholds in central Somalia. In recent months, Ahlu-Sunna fighters have also supported government and African Union peacekeeping troops defend against al-Shabab attacks in the capital, Mogadishu.
But disagreements between Somali President Sharif Sheik Ahmed and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke over the make up of the new Cabinet have delayed implementation of the agreement.
VOA sources in Mogadishu say an announcement about the Cabinet reshuffle may come as early as Friday, but key officials of Ahlu-Sunna may not be on the list. Sheik Mohamoud Hassan Farah has warned that his group would not accept Somali factional leaders - some of whom are fighting against al-Shabab under the Ahlu-Sunna banner - as Ahlu-Sunna representatives in the Transitional Federal Government.
The March agreement caused a split within Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a, with one faction rejecting the deal as an attempt by Ethiopia to control the group and its leaders. Nevertheless, the faction agreed it would not oppose the Somali government.
U.S.-based Somalia observer Michael Weinstein says the loss of Ahlu-Sunna as a military ally could be catastrophic for a government that is already dependent on 5,300 African Union peacekeepers for its survival.
For weeks, A.U. peacekeepers and Ahlu-Sunna militia have been struggling to help fend off al-Shabab advances into areas of Mogadishu under government control. On Thursday, President Sharif, dressed in military fatigues, accompanied African Union troops to the front lines to rally government troops.
In a recent article posted on the Puntland-based Garoweonline website, Weinstein warned that al-Shabab was on the verge of eliminating its major competitor, Hizbul Islam, by taking over all areas of southern and central Somalia in which the two groups have divided or shared since early 2009.
Once completed, Weinstein says he believes al-Shabab will move against the pro-government Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a militia that controls much of the central Galgadud region and has fighters deployed in Mogadishu.
"If the central region goes to al-Shabab, then there is a real crisis. Puntland is pressured," said Weinstein. "The TFG [Transitional Federal Government] is left without any effective allies," he said. "Is this going to force the hand of the donor powers? Is there going to be another Ethiopian invasion? Everything is on the table. There is no diplomatic political response that can stop al-Shabab anymore. I think it is only a military response that can stop them."
During a meeting in the Kenyan capital Nairobi last week, East African defense chiefs asked the United Nations to lift the ban on Somalia's neighbors sending peacekeepers to the war-torn country.