As the Islamic Courts Union militias try to extend their control in Somalia, there are conflicting views about the ICU’s governing style and objectives. Some say it’s brought calm to a troubled country, while others suggest links to terrorist groups.
Mathew Bryden is a regional consultant on Somalia. From Nairobi, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about whether it’s possible to get an accurate picture of the Islamist Courts Union at this time.
“No, it’s not possible. And one of the main reasons is the courts themselves are in a process of transition and reorganization…restructure the consultative council…restructure their armed forces and to integrate them…and this process is still playing itself out. I think we won’t have a clear idea of how they’re organized and who their leaders are going to be at various levels for several more weeks.”
Asked whether the ICU controls all of Somalia, Bryden says, “No, they don’t control the country. They control a large part of south-central Somalia. More than any other group in southern Somalia. They are certainly more powerful, better armed and arguably more popular than the Transitional Federal Government is. But they’re clearly meeting resistance from some communities, who are concerned about their interpretation of Islam and the types of administration they might seek to establish. There are varying perceptions across Somalia as to what the courts really represent, whether they are a national body or a clan body. I think they will find it harder and harder to expand as they move inland from Mogadishu and Kismayo.”
Are there clan leaders strong enough to resist the ICU? Bryden says, “I don’t think so. There are no individual groups out there who can match the ICU in terms of firepower.” However, he does point out that the ICU took over Kismayo very easily, without a major military assault.
Regarding reports of foreign fighters being in Somalia and part of the ICU, the analyst says, “There are many reports, most of them unconfirmed. But I think very credible reports that they have also Somalis from outside Somalia, from Ethiopia and elsewhere. There have been reports of Oromo fighters from Ethiopia. Something that has the Ethiopian government very worried. And there have been credible reports of volunteers from across the Muslim world.”
Bryden says that he has not heard reports of Somalia being used as a training ground for the Taliban. But he also says the ICU seems to be backing away from an earlier invitation to the international community “to verify whether or not there were al Qaida members in their territory.”