On the 23rd August 2010 al-shabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Raghe said they would step up their campaign against the TFG and “eradicate the invaders” – a reference to the African Union (AU) peacekeepers in Somalia. Almost immediately heavy fighting broke out in several parts of the capital Mogadishu and continued for over a week. The next day two al-Shabab suicide bombers killed 35 people (including a number of parliamentarians) at a Mogadishu hotel before blowing themselves up and on the 30th August the presidential Palace came under mortar attack killing 4 AU peacekeepers.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera TV Abdirahman Yariisow, Somalia’s information minister, said that al-Shaabab will not defeat his government, he said:

“We are winning this war yesterday’s suicide attack was some kind of revenge for the losses……[we inflicted on al-Shabab]….al-Shabab are terrorists, they are working for al-Qaeda and they have no regard for civilians.”

Al-Shabab’s disregard for civilians was further proved on 9th September when three suicide bombers blew themselves up at Mogadishu airport killing fourteen people, the dead included members of the AU force and two female beggars. Time will tell if Abdirahman Yariisow is right and the TFG do defeat al-Shabab but it is worth taking a look at where al-Shabab came from and and at how an opportunity to possibly bring peace to Somalia was sabotaged by the US government and their allies in Ethiopia.

In July 2006 the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) took control of Mogadishu and much of the surrounding area. They won control from competing warlords despite some of these warlords receiving money from the CIA to fight off the ICU who the US saw as a front for al-Qaeda. According to the New York Times the CIA

“had channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year to secular warlords inside Somalia with the aim, among other things, of capturing or killing a handful of suspected members of al-Qaeda believed to be hiding there.”

Al-Shabab were the youth wing of the ICU and also formed its military wing the Mujahideen Youth Movement (Shabab means “youth” in arabic). The ICU were portrayed as extreme islamists and there were dire warnings that if they were to remain in power in Somalia al-Qaeda would gain a foothold in Africa.

However Martin Fletcher, a journalist from The Times in London who had visited Somalia wrote that they were a better option then the warlords the CIA was funding. Fletcher says he is no apologist for the ICU and acknowledges that “their leadership included extremists with dangerous intentions and connections” but he goes on to say that

“for six months they achieved the near-impossible feat of restoring order to a country that appeared ungovernable”

they also banned guns and the narcotic qat “which rendered half Somalia’s menfolk senseless.” He went onto say that the ICU publicly executed two murderers (the state of Texas executed 24 people in 2006) but were less repressive then the Saudi Arabian government. They were of course far from perfect but Fletcher adds

“at least people could walk the streets without being robbed or killed. That trumps most other considerations. Ask any Iraqi.”

Yusuf Garaad Omar of the BBC Somali service described ICU chairman Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as a “moderate” who

“sought to assure Somalis and the international community…..that the Islamic Courts were no threat and only wanted order.”

He added that the ICU “are the most popular political force in the country” even at one point even organizing a clear up of Mogadishu’s streets when “hundreds of volunteers joined in to collect the debris”. The ICU also reopened Mogadishu airport which had been closed since 1995 and reopened the seaport which had been closed for 10 years. Andrew Mwangura of the Seafarers Assistance Program which monitors pirate activity in the Indian Ocean, said that while the ICU were in charge “piracy abated“.

The US however was not happy at the thought of any Islamist government in Africa, unwilling to commit US troops after their disastrous invasion of 1993 the US got Ethiopia to do the dirty work for them. In December 2006 a US backed invasion by the Ethiopian army routed the ICU whose supporters fled into neighboring countries or across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.

Yemen had previously acted as mediator between the Islamic Courts and the TFG and was willing to do so again. The Daily Telegraph reported:

“Leaders of Somalia’s defeated Islamic movement said yesterday that they were committed to peace talks which could cut the threat of an Iraq-style insurgency across the Horn of Africa.”

A Yemeni official was quoted as saying

“They [the ICU] have been evaluating their position since recent events in Somalia, and it is fair to say they are being pragmatic. They said they are committed to peace talks, which could be held by mid-January [2007] in either Khartoum or Nairobi.”

However after the defeat by the Ethiopian army the ICU was finished as any kind of political or military force and Somalia lumbered towards another period of instability and war.

In March 2007 African Union peacekeepers arrived in Mogadishu to find the city had once again become a war zone, warlords and government & Ethiopian forces fought for control, between February and April 2007 the UN said that 320,00 people had left Mogadishu because of the fighting and piracy was on the increase. Somalia had returned to what it had been before the takeover by the ICU in 2006 and any chance of peace had disappeared. All this because the US government did not approve of a small number of ICU members.

The irony is that former members of the ICU now form part of the United Nations backed Transitional Federal Government, former ICU chairman Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is now President of Somalia (in 2009 he held talks with Hilary Clinton no less) and Abdulkadir Ali Omarm a former ICU commander is Minister of Interior.

The ICU were not perfect, they did however provide security and some hope for Somalia. Somali’s now face the prospect of their country coming under attack from al-Shabab a group that make no secret of their admiration for with al-Qaeda. Sharif Sheikh Ahmed recently said

“It is quite impractical to expect Somalia alone to contain the evil al-Qaeda [and] al-Shabab alliance, as Somalia is emerging from 20 years of destruction and a chaotic political environment”

we have ignored him once before maybe this time we in the west and particularly the US will listen to him.