Suleiman Baldo, who heads the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank’s Africa Programme, spoke to Aljazeera.net shortly after the Islamic Courts Union announced that it had taken the Somali capital on Monday.
If the Islamists’ claim is confirmed it would be the first time that control of the entire city had been wrested from Somalia‘s warlords since they ousted the former president, Mohammed Siad Barre, in 1991.
The warlords were fleeing the area and the fledgling interim government said it was ready to talk to the new victors.
Aljazeera.net: What kind of support, if any, does the United States provide to the ARPCT?
Baldo: We know that some of the warlords are receiving support from Washington in the form of payments that allow them to buy weapons.
The Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism [ARPCT] took arms against the Islamist militia in February, probably after having increased its military capacity thanks to Washington.
The US has neither affirmed nor denied it; officials say they are in partnership with people that help in their war on terrorism.
Some US officials have tried to point out the dangers of such an alliance, but they were hushed up.
Aljazeera.net: Could you elaborate on the dangers that this alliance poses?
Baldo: First of all, it has fuelled the fighting between the ARPCT and the Islamic courts since last February that has killed hundreds of civilians caught in the crossfire. Washington has shown a total disregard for the humanitarian cost of this battle.
Second, Somalia is becoming unstable again [Somalia has been plagued by intermittent civil war since 1977], the courts are getting stronger.
Some residents actually support them because they’ve restored a semblance of order and now they’ve captured Mogadishu.
Somalia is not traditionally a breeding ground for radical Islamism but follows a more moderate type of Islam, like in the rest of [Muslim] Africa.
Aljazeera.net: What were the Americans hoping to achieve?
Baldo: Washington and intelligence in the area believe that people responsible for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and for the 2002 attack on a tourist hotel and Israeli plane in Kenya, were carried out by terrorists that used Somalia as a transit point and safe haven, especially after the fall of Afghanistan [to US-led forces in the winter of 2001].
Some of those radical elements have ties with the Islamic courts.
By defeating the courts, Washington was hoping to discourage the terrorists from using Somalia as a hiding ground and keep dangerous individuals on the run.
But, as we know, the end result is the just the opposite of that. The courts seem to be winning.
Moreover, the US may have violated a UN embargo by supporting the warlords. A UN investigation is under way.
The US is interested in immediate results and has failed. It also didn’t hesitate to ally itself with the some of the warlords that killed 18 American troops in Mogadishu in 1993.
Aljazeera.net: Is it fair to describe the fighting in Somalia as a proxy war between Washington and radical Islamists?
Baldo: Not only that. This is also a proxy war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Eritrea supports the Islamic courts while Ethiopia co-operates with Washington.
The courts are traditionally funded by business communities locally because the application of the Sharia [Islamic law] had brought back a semblance of order.
Part of the fighting is also about economic turfs: who controls the trade routes, ports and airports. It’s not purely ideological and there is a definite exploitation of September 11 in local politics.