By Rachelle Kliger
The Islamist A-Shabab group in Somalia claims its forces retook control
this week over strategic areas of the Somali capital Mogadishu.
A-Shabab, one of the primary factions in the Somali opposition fighting
against government forces and troops from African Union, says this marks
a new stage in the fighting in Mogadishu.
The group claims to have taken over the Global Hotel, where government
forces were barricaded, according to the Egypt-based Islamic News
Richard Cornwell, an independent consultant and expert on African
affairs, told The Media Line that A-Shabab was seeking to replace
institutions of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) rather than
take over them, because it viewed the government as illegitimate and a
creation of foreign powers.
However, he said, creating their own government would be very difficult
because of the troublesome and complex nature of Somali society.
"All Somalis have multiple identities, whether in terms of religious
ideology, clan allegiance or place of residence," he said. "You´re
dealing with a very complicated set of allegiances and alliances that
come together only to fall apart when they´re challenged."
The goal of the Al-Qa´ida-affiliated force is to topple the government
and impose strict Islamic law.
A-Shabab already controls large parts of central and southern Somalia.
In these areas, its strict laws are being manifested in the form of
beheadings, the severing of limbs as punishment for theft, enforcing an
Islamic dress code and closing down movie theaters.
But Cornwell said creating a Somali state based on A-Shabab´s
principles, which opposes foreign and Western influence, would be
"The form of Islam practiced by most Somalis is a fairly moderate Sufi
Islam, which doesn't lend itself to the formation of a pseudo-Taliban
state at all. It would be a bit like trying to herd cats," he said.
The takeover follows fierce clashes between A-Shabab and government
forces on Saturday.
Eyewitnesses told the agency that during Saturday´s fighting, the
government lost control over several important positions, including the
old port in Mogadishu.
The weak Somali government is denying the reported defeats.
Since May, Somalia has been embroiled in fresh fighting between the two
sides, in which hundreds of fighters and civilians have been killed.
As many as 200,000 Mogadishu residents have fled the capital since the
clashes erupted again, the largest displacement since the government of
President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad came to power five months ago.
The United States recently announced it sent 40 tons of arms and
ammunition to the Somali government and sent funding to train local
American aid to Somalia does not include the deployment of U.S. troops
in the country, and the U.S. is concerned the country will become a safe
haven for Al-Qa´ida operatives.
The instability in Somalia is also fueling a spate of piracy off the
Gulf of Aden.
Cornwell said if the situation in Somalia deteriorated, the U.S. would
likely seek to get more involved but cautioned that it would have to go
about it very carefully.
"The problem is, how do you get in there and prop up the very weak TFG
institutions without aggravating further the Somali feeling of
independence and anti-foreignism," he said, adding that A-Shabab has
utilized this sentiment successfully to its own benefit.
"One of the ways this has been attempted is to ask other Islamic African
countries to help, and to show that this is not a Western agenda and
that Africa is standing behind the TFG."
Source: Media Line News Agency