All-Out Regional War Looms in the Horn of Africa
The Washington Post
December 14, 2006
by Stephanie McCrummen
If almost half of your population are rapidly radicalizing Muslims and you are facing fundamentalists from all around the region, you should better just close your country and go elsewhere.
With the Ethiopian government saying it is technically at war with Somalia's Islamic Courts movement, and the movement having declared holy war against Ethiopia, there is fear that an all-out conflict in the Horn of Africa may be unavoidable.
In the past week, several skirmishes have broken out between militias loyal to Ethiopia and those loyal to the Council of Islamic Courts, the movement that has taken control of the southern region of the country, including Mogadishu, the capital.
The fighting has occurred around the southern town of Baidoa, seat of Somalia's fragile but internationally recognized transitional government. Ethiopia considers the interim government a buffer against Islamic Courts leaders who have long expressed desire to create a "Greater Somalia," including ethnically Somali portions of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.
. . .
"My feeling is that Ethiopia will go to war. . . . Their own security is at stake," a senior Kenyan diplomat said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. "Unfortunately, the [U.N.] resolution was sponsored by the United States, and it will be used by the Courts as a propaganda tool. But at least there's a window."
Besides fear of an Islamic government on its border, an increasingly authoritarian Ethiopian government is also concerned about radicalization of its own Muslim citizens, who now account for nearly 50 percent of the population. The government has accused the Islamic Courts of training and arming insurgent groups in the ethnically Somali region of Ethiopia called the Ogaden. The two countries have been to war over the area three times since Somalia's independence in 1960.
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Support for the Islamic movement by Eritrea, Ethiopia's neighbor and rival, appears to be a big part of Ethiopia's motivation. The Ethiopia-Eritrea proxy conflict in Somalia could ignite a regional conflagration and threaten U.S. anti-terrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa, according to a report due out this week from the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. It describes "a general unraveling of U.S. foreign policy" in the region and calls for the United States to exert stronger pressure on the two countries to implement a U.S.-brokered border agreement.
The U.N. study found that the Islamic Courts group has also raised money from various Arab states and the Somali diaspora. Relatively quickly, the movement established an efficient system of taxation and social welfare programs that enabled businesses to function and that seem to have earned support among Somalis, even if many in the traditionally moderate country are uneasy with the harsher aspects of Islamic law. At the same time, the movement has been backed by a more radical military wing called the shebab, made up of young men raised in a chaotic country awash with weapons, and indoctrinated with the ideology of holy war.
Hey, Raccoon. More refugees are coming. Where are you?
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