- Islamist militia groups have made great advances against the "Anti-Terrorism Alliance" of eight warlords in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. City residents speak of the heaviest fighting in a decade, with tens of dead and wounded in the city's centre. Most are civilians. Mediators trying to negotiate a truce have been rejected by the two sides.
Mogadishu elders had managed to broker a truce between the two armed factions on 14 May, thus stopping a bloody urban war that had lasted for eight days and killed an estimated 140 persons; mostly civilians caught in the crossfire. Renewed fighting however broke out yesterday, following a disagreement on who - according to the truce - was in control of the northern CC neighbourhood.
The two groupings confronted in Mogadishu are not only fighting over territory and aligned revenues, but also over ideology. The Islamist militia group - which only was set up recently - has its roots in the Islamic courts that slowly have taken control over civilian life in otherwise lawless Mogadishu during the last years. The Islamic courts started providing basic services, unknown to Mogadishu residents since the collapse of government in 1991, increasing their popularity.
In contrast to the Islamic courts, the warlords controlling each their zone of the Somali capital have based their power on arms and extortion, not providing any services but occasional peace to Mogadishu residents. The warlord militias count on very little popular support, especially after the Islamic courts started their welfare-oriented works.
During the last year, however, the Islamic courts have demanded greater power in the public life of Mogadishu, to the irritation of the warlords in control. The courts set up an Islamist militia to defend their gains. During the last few months, clashes between the Islamist militia and the warlords have intensified, breaking out in outright war earlier this months.
Mogadishu residents claim that the eight warlord militias - now grouped together as the "Anti-Terrorism Alliance" - are armed and funded by the United States in an attempt to fight militant Islamism on Somali soil. US government officials have denied this only in general terms, while adding that Washington always supports those trying to stop "terrorists" from establishing.
While this alleged US support to the Mogadishu warlords has even lowered their local support, many city residents are also growing sceptical to the Islamic courts and its new, armed power base. The Islamists are said to be funded by Saudis, practicing another type of Islam - Wahabism - which is more fundamentalist than the traditionally liberal Somali Sunni Islam. Many Somalis believe the warlords' claim that the Islamist militia is supporting international terrorism.
Despite the alleged US support, however, the warlords seem to be losing out to the Islamist militia. Reports from Mogadishu indicate that large parts of the city are now under the Islamists' control, including the centre and strategic points such as the port and the airport. The warlords are said to be defined to a ever-smaller pocket near the city centre.
The warlords this week also suffered a diplomatic defeat as the transitional Somali government - based in the town of Baidoa, some 250 kilometres north-east of the capital - turned down calls to assist them in the fight against the Islamists. Several Mogadishu warlords have posts in the Baidoa transitional government, including that of the Somali Security Minister, but some have chosen to quit government due to its lack of support.
Today's fighting has been among the worst in the recent history of Mogadishu. At least 22 people have been killed, although residents speak of tens of dead bodies in the streets. Thousands of people have fled their homes, the UN reports from Mogadishu. "Most of those affected fled to areas around Lafoole and Afgoy, some 20 km outside Mogadishu, on foot, because public transport services had stopped," the UN agency IRIN says.
The renewed fighting in Mogadishu also has raised international fears that the Somali peace process again may be collapsing. François Lonsény Fall, the UN Envoy to Somalia, today urged all parties to stop fighting immediately and unconditionally. Drought-affected "Somalia is already at war with nature and poverty," Mr Fall said, adding that this was a "serious obstacles to the national progress" in re-establishing a Somali state.
Prior to the fighting, it appeared that Somali leaders were moving towards reconciliation. They had agreed on a transitional charter and members of the parliament were engaged in efforts to frame a constitution. "Given Somalia's tragic recent history, these are not small achievements," Mr Fall said, adding that the UN and the international community remained committed to assist Somalia. "However, we need a country that is universally committed to security for those efforts so that we can move ahead at maximum speed," he warned.
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