Somalia "in the hands of al-Qaeda"

Fear of contagion leads to calls for increased deployment in Somalia. Turkey threatens to sever diplomatic ties with Israel. Bosnian ex-president in London court on extradition charges. Lebanese Shia leader dies. China deploys security forces ahead of Urumqi riots anniversary. All this and more in today's security briefing.
Jamie Munn Patricia Rich
6 July 2010

East African leaders at an emergency summit of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Addis Ababa yesterday promised to send 2,000 peacekeepers to Somalia and renewed calls for the UN to take over from the African Union (AU) troops currently deployed in the country. According to Ali Yasin of the Elam Rights Group, 57 civilians have been killed and a further 146 have been injured in the last two weeks. Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, head of Somalia’s transitional federal government, pleaded for help at the summit claiming that “Somalia is in the hands of al-Qaeda”.

Somalia has been without effective government since 1991 when Siad Barre was forced from office, since which time various warring factions have been fighting for control of the country. The current UN-backed transitional government was installed after extended talks in Kenya in 2004, and in January 2009 the government’s mandate was extended for a further two years. This extension, and thus the governments mandate, is due to end at the beginning of next year – however targets for reconciliation and reconstruction are yet to be achieved. 2006 saw the rise of proclaimed Islamic extremist groups in Somalia gaining control of the south from the militias and warlords who had shaped the preceding fifteen years. Al Shahab, a powerful group controlling most of the southern Somalia, has declared its allegiance to al-Qaeda.

The openSecurity verdict: Since 1991, up to a million people have lost their lives to fighting in Somalia in a conflict which shows no signs of resolution. This year alone, according to UNHCR, 200,000 Somali’s have been forced from their homes. While less Somali’s are crossing the borders to neighbouring states, UNHCR is keen to point out that this does not represent an improvement, instead stating that the situation is “worsening” and pointing out that Somalia is “largest number of refugees in the world” after Afghanistan and Iraq.

The transitional federal government have been charged with the task of reconciliation and reconstruction. How this is to be done when they are only able to control certain areas of Mogadishu and the current AU deployment of forces (made up of 6,100 peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi), primarily caught up with fighting off attacks from warring groups, is unclear. Reconciliation and reconstruction are in reality far from the priority – the fundamental concern being to create a unified, stable country with a government which has legitimacy amongst the population and can excercise its authority.

While IGAD may hope that by sending a further 2,000 troops they will be able to contain the power of the fighting factions, the greatest hope is that this will prompt the UN to take over from the beleaguered AU troops. Since the humiliating withdrawal of UNISOM II in 1995, the UN have only provided funding to the cause, and although in principle they have agreed with the proposition to take over from the AU in the country, in reality this is unlikely to materialise. IGAD have called for the deployment of 20,000 peacekeepers but countries scarred by memories of losses in the 1990s and those without a perceived interest in the country’s security are unlikely to want to commit troops to Somalia.

At present, the focus of outside powers is containment. NATO operates in the seas surrounding Somalia in an attempt to combat piracy. Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s claim that al-Qaeda are in control of Somalia must be understood as an attempt to elevate Somalia on the international agenda by raising the possibility of transnational terrorism. But if the US approach to Yemen, a short crossing from the Somali coast, is anything to go by, then concerns that the presence of international forces may increase support for Islamist insurgents may trump demands for a large-scale deployment. Instead, covert operations and arms-length support for the Somali government and its neighbours are likely to continue to be the tool of choice, at least as far as the US is concerned.

Somalia has been without effective government for almost twenty years, it has become the political analyst’s text-book example of a failed state. However, its status as such has done little to move it up the international agenda. While IGAD promise troops and make calls to the UN for further involvement, these calls are not only about numbers of peacekeepers on the ground but should be understood as pleas from a region which is dealing with protracted conflict and lawlessness of which, after two decades, there is little sign of retreat.

Turkey threatens to sever diplomatic ties with Israel

Turkey has officially announced for the first time that it is considering breaking diplomatic ties with Israel. After years of drift, the two countries’ ties were dealt a severe blow after last month’s Israeli offensive on a aid flotilla from Turkey bound for the Gaza Strip, which resulted in nine deaths. Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has said that an adverse situation could be averted if Israel publicly apologised for the raid, which was widely condemned by the international community, adding that it should agree to an international inquiry into the incident, and pay compensation.

Israel has refuted claims that it has anything to apologise for, with Yigal Palmor, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson stating that ‘when you want an apology, you don't use threats or ultimatums’. Ankara has previously said that it would reconsider its ties with Israel, but Monday’s announcement was the first time that an explicit threat to sever relations has been intimated.

Turkey had been Israel’s most important Muslim ally, and an important mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Turkish ship was one of many in an aid-carrying flotilla from Turkey, which included Palestinian supporters and journalists from 33 nations, which was attempting to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel continues to claim that the blockade is necessary to prevent the import of arms into the territory, from which attacks on neighbouring districts in Israel continue. Benjamin Netanyahu recently promised to make concessions, following international pressure, to allow limited aid and materials, for approved projects, into Gaza.  

US President Barack Obama is due to meet Netanyahu in Washington on Tuesday to help resolve the situation. Israel and Turkey have been military allies since the 1990s, since which time intelligence sharing and trade have also prospered. Ties have been strained since Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey spoke out in 2008 against the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Bosnian ex-president appears in London court on extradition charges

Former Bosnian President Ejup Ganic is today due to appear in a London court on extradition charges at the request of the Serbian government. He has been under house arrest in London for the past four months. Serbia alleges that it was Dr Ganic who ordered the massacre of Serbian soldiers who were retreating from Sarajevo in 1992, at the beginning of the Bosnian war. Dr Ganic denies all charges of war crimes, and has criticised the UK government for, as he says, doing the work of the Serbian government and has accused them of ‘helping the Serbs to rewrite history’. Dr Ganic, in 1992 a senior minister, had become acting president after Alija Izbetbegovic was taken hostage by Serb forces at Sarajevo airport. He is accused specifically of ordering an attack on a convoy from the Yugoslav army that was retreating from a Muslim area of the city. This, Serbia says, broke the safe passage pact, incurred ‘grave breaches’ of the Geneva Convention, and amounted to ‘conspiracy to murder’. The trial is expected to last five days.

Lebanon’s grand ayatollah dies aged 74

Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon’s top Shia Muslim cleric, has died at the age of 74, after being admitted to hospital on Friday with suspected internal bleeding. He was regarded as one of the key figures in the founding of Hezbollah, and was seen as one of its spiritual leaders – something that both he and Hezbollah refuted. It is reported that on the news of his death, TV broadcasts were interrupted, black banners draped from buildings and there were public morning took place in the streets.

After moving to Lebanon in 1966, from his home in Iraq, he won followers in both countries, and his influence extended to the Gulf and through Central Asia. He was continually critical of the US and Israel, who both regarded him as involved in terrorism. A car bombing in 1985, in which over 80 people died, was seen as an assassination attempt on the Grand Ayatollah by the United States’, the CIA and its allies in the region. Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, said that he had been ‘a voice of moderation and an advocate of unity among the Lebanese and Muslims in general’.

Ethic riot anniversary sees stepped up security in Xinjiang

Security in Urumqui, in the Xinjiang region of China has been heavily increased on the first anniversary of ethnic riots between predominantly Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese that claimed the lives of over 200 people, and injured 1,700 others. All police leave has been cancelled and an additional 40,000 CCTV cameras have been positioned throughout the region.

The riots, which began on 5 July 2009, between Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese were the region's worst bout of ethnic violence in decades. China's president, Hu Jintao, has said the main sources of the conflicts are economic factors rather than racial ones. Last year's violence has hardened attitudes among many Han Chinese. More than eight million Uighurs live in Xinjiang. Many are seen to be unhappy about the large influx of Han Chinese, which they say has strained the local economy and marginalised their culture.

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