History learned # 4 : The Great China Project

UN Security Council (2006)

The US introduced a resolution into the UN Security Council in late November, which authorized African Union peace-keepers to defend the TFG; it was passed unanimously on December 7. Such a proposal will surely not be implemented in the near future, and poses major practical problems, but rather operates as diplomatic support, backed by the eventual threat of official UN military action. The resolution sparked major protests in Mogadishu, and is likely seen in Somalia as giving license to Ethiopian incursion. Backing such a weak, increasingly illegitimate and dependent regime as it nears collapse may not only be a futile strategy: it may also further enhance the legitimacy of the UIC, as the TFG appears desperate and little more than a US-Ethiopian puppet. The International Crisis Group warns that this move in the Security Council could trigger a regional conflict; it suggests that the UN should pressure both sides to resume negotiations, rather than favoring one.[9]

Egypt, Eritra, Djibouti, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Hezbollah (2006)

For its part, the UIC also receives foreign support. According to a UN report, it receives aid from Iran, Egypt, Djibouti, Libya, Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Eritrea. Djibouti has provided uniforms and medicines; Egypt has provided training within Somalia; Iran has provided arms and ammunition; Hezbollah has provided military training and arms, and UIC fighters fought Israeli soldiers alongside Hezbollah in July 2006; Libya provided training, funds and arms; Eritrea provided arms, ammunition and military equipment; Saudi Arabia provided logistical support and ammunition. This support, it seems, has not extended to the provision of official military personnel, although this is not clear. There are fears that the conflict could become an Eritrea-Ethiopia proxy war. Arrivals of thousands of foreign Islamic fighters have also been reported, especially in recent weeks, although it is difficult to see how this observation could be made with any reliability.[10]

The secret Aweys order for an Islamic Republic

Relieve aid for Bajuni islands

The Aweys secret order was passed from the TFG to Chinese agencies on October 14, 2006 and subsequently leaked to WikiLeaks.org. It bears the imprimatur ‘Islamic Republic of Somalia, Islamic Courts Administration, Office of the Chief of the Imams’, and lists its subject as ‘secret decision’. Dated November 9, 2005, it purports to be an overall statement of UIC policy in the civil war: the footer describes it as a ‘plan of action for governance based on the principles of Islam and restoration of justice in all Somalia regions’.

The Islamic Republic of Somalia

The heading itself is meaningful: the phrase ‘Islamic Republic of Somalia’ is very rarely used to refer to the UIC. Aweys has occasionally used it in local media; others have used it to refer not to the UIC, but to the potential establishment of an Iranian style Islamic state over all of Somalia. The phrase amounts to an assertion of sovereignty, not only over the lands the UIC controls, but over the northern autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland as well. The inclusion of Somaliland and Puntland is made clear by reference to ‘all Somalia regions’ and further within the text, which calls for the opening of Islamic courts in all districts of Puntland and Somaliland. Puntland has an uneasy truce with the UIC, having agreed to the establishment of Sharia law, though on its own terms, using different methods from the UIC. Although the UIC’s expansionist ambitions are now quite clear, Somaliland and Puntland might find such an apparent assertion of sovereignty alarming and certainly would have in November 2005.[11]

The preamble expounds goals which are clearly, but not unusually, Islamist, including the establishment of an Islamic state practicing Sharia law. It denounces Muhammad Siad Barre’s regime as unjust, undermining and violating Sharia law. It denounces the TFG as hunting religious leaders, and responsible for influencing the international community to believe that the UIC is a terrorist organization. The document goes on to list strategies to be followed as part of this plan.

Advocated strategies

By and large, the strategies advocated in the document are those which can be expected by any faction in a civil war. Any party in a civil war can be expected to try to spread influence, establish alliances and undermine enemies. So, for instance, the document advocates opening Islamic courts in Puntland and Somailand in collaboration with clan elders. As mentioned previously, Puntland has agreed to the establishment of its own version of Sharia law. It advocates ‘plots’ to mar the relationships between the TFG, Puntland and Somaliland, though it is not clear what this amounts to; subtleties of translation may be important here. It advocates infiltration into the armed forces of Puntland and Somaliland: we know of no factual reports to this effect, however. It advocates purchasing weapons used by Puntland and Somaliland armed forces, and from their ‘custodians’, which seems rather curious. It advocates alliances with clans, supporting local leaders. It advocates religious lectures to influence the public in the UIC’s favour; no doubt this has been the case. It recommends that public friction with the TFG, Puntland or Somaliland administrations be minimized, while allies are identified within their cabinets and support provided to them. It advocates supporting ethnic Somali rebels in Ethiopia, to weaken the capability of the Ethiopian military in Somalia: again, a natural strategy. It advocates welcoming and influencing minority clans which are marginalized by the TFG, Somaliland and Puntland administrations. It singles out particular clans and individuals for support against their rivals. It advocates minimizing animosity with religious leaders. All of these are natural, and perhaps obvious, strategies.

Two of the purported decisions, however, are more controversial. If the document is genuine, they are damaging to the UIC and to Aweys. If the document is a forgery, they are smears and we must ask how they came to be.

The first advocates cooperation with ‘criminals’; making large payments in return for assassinations of TFG, Somaliland and Puntland officials. So the UIC is prepared to deal with criminals, but the targets are to be officials, not civilians, and the UIC is not prepared to carry out such actions itself. Perhaps this, again, is simply an expression of the reality of civil wars – every warlord is in some sense a criminal – but it perhaps indicates a lesser moral caliber than the UIC proclaims for itself; and it would no doubt disappoint or outrage some local followers. But this is the extent of advocacy of terroristic activity. No activities in Kenya or Tanzania are mentioned, such as those of which the US accuses the UIC.

In this regard, two bombings have taken place in Somalia this year. On September 18, double suicide car bombings failed to kill TFG president Abdulahi Yusuf. And on November 30, a car bomb exploded at an entrance to Baidoa, though the intended target is not clear. The bombings were condemned by the UIC. It is possible they were sponsored by the UIC, and would be consistent with the strategies enunciated in our document; but that is a far cry from the sort of terrorism of which the US accuses it.[12]

Leakers to be shot

The other controversial decision is the final one: ‘Whosoever leaks this information and is found guilty should be shot’. In times of war most countries have the death penalty for espionage, and this language is not atypical of Aweys, but if a forgery, this sounds like a somewhat ham-fisted way of calling attention to the document.


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