• The nation of 10 million people has a long coastline on the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, forming the Horn of Africa. Its neighbours are Djibouti to the northwest, Ethiopia to the west and Kenya to the southwest.
  • The main religion is Islam (Sunni) and there is a small Christian minority.
  • Somalia was created in 1960 through the merger of the British Somaliland Protectorate and Italian Somaliland. In 1969, the president, Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, was assassinated and the army seized control. Mohammed Siad Barre became president.
  • In November 1991, after the overthow of Barre, a power struggle broke out between rival clan regional commanders, Mohammed Farah Aideed and Ali Mahdi Mohammed. It evolved into civil war, with thousands of civilians killed and wounded.
  • In February 1992, the rival commanders signed a UN-sponsored ceasefire but failed to agree on monitoring provisions.
  • In December 1992, the UN Security Council endorsed a full-scale military operation led by the United States. A week later US marines reached Mogadishu's beaches.
  • The US mission ended disastrously when 18 US army rangers and one Malaysian were killed after Somali militias shot down two US helicopters. Hundreds of Somalis died in the ensuing fighting.
  • In October 2004, in the 14th attempt since 1991 to restore a central government, an Ethiopian-backed regional commander, Abdullahi Yusuf, was elected Somali president by politicians. In December, a new government led by Mohammed Ali Gedi was sworn in in exile, in neighbouring Kenya.
  • In February, MPs arrived in the northwestern Somali town of Baidoa for the first meeting of the country's parliament on home soil.
  • Since 1991, Somalia has had no constitution as rivalry between clan-based militia groups prevented the emergence of central authorities.
  • After the descent into anarchy, the Islamic Courts Union tried to restore order by imposing sharia (Islamic) law. Some were hijacked by Islamist militants or jihadis.
  • Before the new parliament met in the country in February, regional commanders formed an Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism in what many analysts saw as a US-funded ploy to reduce the influence of Islamic leaders.
  • On June 5, Islamic courts-allied militia took control of Mogadishu, the first time the capital had been wrested from Somalia's powerful regional commanders since Barre was toppled.
  • The interim administration has been powerless to control fighting in Mogadishu and is not strong enough to move to the capital.