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Somali Sufi Group Backs Out of Government Power-Sharing Deal

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A leader of Somalia's moderate Islamist Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a group says members of al-Shabab are holding top positions in the U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government. The accusation follows the Sufi group's withdrawal from a power-sharing deal it signed with the government six months ago.

Somali Sufi Group Backs Out of Government Power-Sharing Deal
Somali Sufi Group Backs Out of Government Power-Sharing Deal

The chairman of Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a's Shura Council, Sheik Omar Sheik Abdul Karidir, says his group has documents that show some leaders of the Transitional Federal Government are also members of al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked extremist group fighting to topple the government.

The Sufi cleric did not provide any details and declined to name the government officials he says are connected to al-Shabab. But Karidir says his group will no longer - in his words - "cooperate with an insincere government."

In March, the transitional government signed a power-sharing deal with a faction of Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a in Addis Ababa. The deal called for Ahlu-Sunna to back the government in its fight against al-Shabab in exchange for several Cabinet positions. But on Saturday, the Sufi group said it was pulling out of the deal because the government had failed to live up to its promises.

Ahlu-Sunna's allegation against members of the transitional government has not been independently verified. But similar reports have been circulating since mid-2008, when an Islamist opposition faction based in Eritrea joined the secular government in a U.N.-sponsored power-sharing deal. The leader of the Islamist faction, Sharif Sheik Ahmed, subsequently became president of an expanded Transitional Federal Government, which pledged to defeat al-Shabab and curb extremism.

International Crisis Group Horn of Africa analyst E. J. Hogendoorn says despite Mr. Sharif's new role as an ally of the West, he has been dogged by rumors that he and many other former members of the Eritrean-based faction are adherents of the ultra-conservative Wahhabist strain of Islam.

"There have been lots of allegations that Sheik Sharif has been sympathetic to the goals of al-Shabab - that is the establishment of a Wahhabi state, which is obviously something that Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a would be very much opposed to," said Hogendoorn.

Many elements of Wahhabism are embraced by al-Shabab and another radical Somali insurgent group, Hizbul Islam. Hizbul Islam is led by Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, who was a close associate of President Sharif before he joined the transitional government.

Hogendoorn says although there is no evidence to suggest members of the government are working hand-in-hand with al-Shabab, there are senior officials in government, who are likely to have deeply angered the Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a faction that signed the power-sharing deal.

"What happened was the international community pressured the Transitional Federal Government and Ahlu-Sunna to form an alliance," said Hogendoorn. "There are Islamists in the Transitional Federal Government, who are opposed to Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a's vision. There are also actors, who are worried about Ahlu-Sunna becoming too powerful. So, there are a number of individuals, who would like to undermine the organization."

Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a's withdrawal from government is likely to cause further turmoil in an administration that has long suffered internal divisions. Somalia's Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke resigned last week following a bitter power struggle with President Sharif.

The United States and the United Nations, which provide the bulk of the funding for the Transitional Federal Government, have urged leaders to pull together and bring stability to the country before its mandate ends next August.

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