The Advance of Somalia's Islamic Courts
Islamic Courts, Ethiopian troops dance in south central Somalia
As the Islamic Courts Union presses forward with consolidating power in southern and central Somalia, the chance of a battle between the army of the Islamic Courts and Ethiopian troops currently in country has escalated. Forces from the transitional government, accompanied by Ethiopian army units are said to have occupied the town of Burhakaba, which is situated on the road to Mogadishu. The Islamic Courts Union troops retreated from Burkakaba without a shot. An Islamic Courts force retook the town just hours later, as the forces from the transitional government and Ethopia left with as little violence as they came. The ICU and Ethiopian militaries are playing a game of chicken, waiting for the other to make the first strike.
In southern Somalia, the Juba Valley Alliance claimed it will retake the city of Kismayo and is reported to be advancing on the town of Bu'ale. Colonel Bare Hirale, the defense minister in the transitional government and leader of the Juba Valley Alliance, retreated from Kismayo last month, and is attempting to raise an army with the support of the transitional government. Members of the Juba Valley Alliance have been arrested for "having meetings with Somali representatives from UN world Food Program and local Himilo NGO in the town without informing the Islamic Courts." Protests against the rule of the Islamic Courts in Kismayo continue for the second day. As a harbinger of things to come in the rest of Islamic Courts-ruled Somalia, Sharia courts are officially being set up in Mogadishu, with 'judges' being appointed to meet out the law.
Sheik Sharif Ahmed, the leader of the Islamic Courts, has openly called for jihad against Ethiopian soldiers in the country. Sharif made the declaration while in a military uniform. Claims that Sharif is the leader of the 'moderate' wing of the Islamic Courts and can be negotiated with should be put to rest at this stage, but won't. Sharif's declaration follows a similar one made by Sheikh Abdurahman Mohamed, the commander of the Hiran militia. Mohamed claims to have established control over the towns on the Ethiopian border.
Kenyan forces have recently gone on high alert after the Islamic Courts deployed military units on the border. The Kenya government responded forcefully to the move, threatening the Islamic Courts with action if they violated the border. Over 30,000 Somali refuges have fled to Kenya this year to escape the fighting and rule of the Islamic Courts.
Despite the recent gains made by the Islamic Courts in southern and central Somalia, the situation is not as difficult in Somalia as it is in Western Pakistan, where the Taliban and al Qaeda have essentially been granted sanctuary by the Pakistani government. The Kenyan and Ethiopian governments are unfriendly towards the Islamic Courts. Ethiopia went to war in Somalia against the al Qaeda backed Union of Islam (al-Ittihad al-Islamiya), the forerunner to the Islamic Courts, and crushed the movement. U.S. forces are currently stationed in Djibouti with Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa. The semi-autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland are hostile to the Islamic Courts. And the Islamic Courts Union has threatened to eliminate the clan-based power structure, which is ingrained into the society.
There is still plenty of room for political and military maneuvering between the concerned parties to organize and jointly defeat the Islamic Courts. Now we must seek an answer to the question: does the will, the resources and a recognition of the problem exist? The recent detonation of a nuclear device in North Korea will funnel away much of the United State's excess diplomatic and military resources from Somalia and other not-so-prevalent hot spots in the war.