Peacekeeper’s Bodies dragged in Mogadishu

Burundian Sodier dragged

The streets of Mogadishu have a long history of brutality. Here the body of a Burundian Peecekeeper, who was apparently captured alive by Al-Shabab fighters after an intense battle yesterday in the Northern districts of Mogadishu, is dragged by children in Baar Ubax, near Bakara market. I was told that he has been dragged for the entire day by children until the body was ripped apart and then finally disposed of in a ditch.

But horrific scenes like these are not as stomach-churning here in Mogadishu as they may seem to the rest of the world. Only a few days ago, dozens of government soldiers’ dead bodies were displayed across Mogadishu’s main junctions. It has become a sort of a daily spectacle, with bodies of slain soldiers often paraded around the city.

Warning! Graphic images…

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Duplicity and Disenchantment: The Collapse of the TFG

 

Somali President, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed

‘It is the President who is causing all this trouble surrounding the government and if this government collapses, it is he who is responsible!’

Mohamed Weheliye Waqaac, MP

For the last few weeks, and the last few days in particular, Mogadishu has been in mired in disarray. The curtains of confusion have been raised and the residents here were entertained to a remarkable show: a political tug of war between the Somali President and his Prime Minister! In a bitter dispute that is threatening to break up the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the Somali President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, called on lawmakers to pass a ‘vote of no-confidence’ regarding the Prime Minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, in order to bring about a ‘change’ that would propel the government in the ‘right direction.’ In turn the Prime Minister, who is vehemently opposed to the President, denounced the attempts by the president as ‘nonsensical,’ stating that there was no need for changing the existing structures of the government. Indeed, the banality of the political landscape in Mogadishu has received its much-awaited makeover with a squabble at the highest level.

Amid the upheaval, the members of the parliament, with a 296 out of 300 majority, passed a motion last Thursday calling on the government to appear before the Parliament for a vote of confidence on Saturday in order to stay functioning. The Prime Minister, who decried the decision of the parliament, must win up to 276 votes of confidence in order to retain his position, otherwise he leaves empty handed. In this whirligig of Somali politics, however, it appears that the session was cancelled today due to reasons not revealed to the media and when a group of angry MPs decided to stage their own parliamentary session, AMISOM forces have managed to disperse them by force.

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Mogadishu: The Imminent Fall

Maj. Barigye Ba-Huko

The voice of Major Barigye Ba-Huko, the African Union spokesman in Somalia, hit the airwaves yesterday evening. Denouncing the attempts by Al-Shabab to overthrow the Somali government along with the AU troops as a mere ‘dream,’ Major Ba-Huko challenged the Islamists fighters to be braver and take on his well-trained soldiers.


‘Let them come and fight us. They know we are at the airport and I challenge them to come there instead of hiding inside the residential areas.’

 

Not more than 48 hours had passed when Ba-Huko’s imprudent dare turned into a grim reality. Al-Shabab has, a few hours ago, carried out another daring attack on the Somali government and the African Union troops stationed at the airport. Two cars, tailing one another and loaded with explosives and armed fighters, infiltrated the government-controlled territory and quietly made their way to Adan Adde International airport, passing by dozens of government bases and hundreds of armed soldiers along the way. They carried neither passports nor tickets and boarding passes; what they carried, however, was a firm conviction in their breasts that, after their operation, they would die as ‘glorious Martyrs.’

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Somalia: Legitimizing the Illegitimate

Al-Shabab Parade

 

As I type this, a fierce battle is underway in the northern districts of Mogadishu. The rapid sound of machine guns and other firearms combined with the loud reverberations of tanks firing and mortars exploding can be heard from miles away. Since the beginning of Ramadan, there has been no respite from such daily battles, but as the month of fasting comes to an end, the battles here have become increasingly intense, particularly in the last few days. And with the ever changing formations of the battle lines and territorial boundaries that define the authority of the warring sides, the battle for Mogadishu, and eventually Somalia, has entered another new neighbourhood.

After a series of co-ordinated attacks yesterday that targeted the Ugandan forces in the vital artery of Makka Al Mukarrama and Shangani district, the Burundi forces in Boondheere district as well as the Somali troops, the Islamists seem to be getting ever closer to achieving their goal. At around evening the loud sounds of heavy artillery fire echoed throughout the city and the sparks of fireworks glowing against the setting sun could be seen from every corer of the city. After several hours of the rapid exchange of bullets came the deadly silence. In this bullet-scarred city, where the gun wreaked havoc for nearly three decades, the sound of a gun has become a part and parcel of life. Silence, especially after a fierce battle, often signalled that something ominous was in the air. People immediately scampered to safety, and not before long, the mortars made their daily rounds, tearing apart the tin-roofed ramshackle buildings and huts. In response to the attack, Amisom began shelling the residents. Soon the news hit the airwaves that up to 23 people were killed and dozens more injured. And though up to 230 are reported dead this month alone and more than 400 injured, the numbers are far greater than that. Estimates here are at around 500 killed and more than a thousand injured.

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Somalia: The Battle for Hearts & Minds

Ali Jabal, Al-Shabab Governor of Banadir

 

The battle for hearts and minds in Somalia has long been fought and won on the basis of tribe and tribal allegiances. But with the rapidly changing political landscape, particularly here in Southern Somalia, a recent shift in perspective has had a tremendous effect on the Somali population. Today the battle of hearts and mind is fought and won on the basis of religion and the people of Somalia judge the worth of an administration by what it can do to alleviate the suffering of the population or by the number of services they can provide the public; and here there is a great divide.

In the congested streets of the Bakara market, an unusual event took place today. Al-Shabab, the Islamist force waging a bitter battle against the Western-backed Transitional federal Government (TFG), have launched a new ambulance service to help those injured by the bullets and mortars. It is out of the ordinary of a group labelled a ‘terrorist organisation’ to set up an ambulance service, But Al-Shabab seem to be defying the norm.

Unveiling this news service, Al-Shabab’s governor of Banadir region spoke at the scene with assurance that his administration was determined to help a population suffering at the hands of the ‘crusaders’ as he put it. Wearing a white overcoat, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Hussein or better known as Ali Jabal, addressed the amazed public:

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The Ramadan Remedy

Mogadishu Morning

As the sun rises in Mogadishu this morning, it does so with a new spirit and a new prospect. Its luminous rays glow with the promise of hope and suffuse the hearts of these suffering souls with renewed optimism; it is optimism intertwined with some pessimistic undertones. But with the spirit of Ramadan saturating the surroundings of this bullet-battered city with its unique sense of jovialty and peace, some of the long-lost passions of the people have also been revived. Just like in its glory days, when Mogadishu was pulsating with youthful vitality, an animated public move about the city in preparation for the month of Ramadan. Ebullient Mogadishan women fill their baskets with dates in preparation for the holy month and buoyant kids are already counting down towards the Eid festival. All around, the city is bustling with a fertile effervescence and yet has a distinctive aura of tranquillity about it. It is surrounded by a peculiarly soothing ambiance which has somehow managed to remain defiantly placid despite the ricocheting bullets and the menacing mortars.


But while the high spirit appreciably diffuses some of the tensions in Mogadishu, a strong sensation of hostility also seems to pervade every part of the city. Ramadan, as the people of Mogadishu have come to learn, is a month of intense battles. The UN is increasing its international and local personnel in Somalia, though they are still not venturing out into the deadly Mogadishu streets. The African Union troops are positioning their mortars and have promised to increase the war. The mystic Sufis have declared war on Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabab. And the Islamists, on their part, have also vowed more attacks during Ramadan and have promised to defeat the ‘Christian Crusaders’ and the ‘enemies of Allah’ in the path of their holy war.

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Quotable Quotes:


I am optimistic that these numbers will be raised now – especially now – because these people have provoked the world more than before. And I can assure you they have invited a lot of problems for themselves,” he told journalists in Uganda

Yoweri Museveni on his decision to send up to 20,000 troops to Somalia to “eliminate” the hardline Islamist group, Al Shabaab

The president did not answer critical questions like: What are our objectives in Somalia? What are the key success indicators? What is the timeframe of our intervention? What is our exit strategy? Without answers to these questions, I am inclined to believe that we have deployed blindly into a troubled country, a factor that is likely to vitiate against success.

TMC News on Museveni’s intervention in Somalia

African leaders are daydreaming. You can’t solve Somalia’s problems by sending in more troops. With its devastating effects, the culture of using military might has been tried but failed. Now it is the time to nurture the culture of dialogue.

Zakaria Mohamud Haji Abdi, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, on the solution to Somalia’s crisis.

Military approaches have only helped to radicalize more youths and exacerbate fundamentalism in Somalia. The international community needs to realize that its current and previous policies on Somalia have largely strengthened religious extremism and Somalis’ distrust of the West.

Kisiangani Emmanuel, a researcher at the South Africa-based Institute for Global Dialogue, said the international community needs to signal a willingness to accept any government that is acceptable to Somalis — including insurgents — regardless of the affiliations of its leaders.

Somalia: The Blurred Perspectives of Peace

The menacing sound of rockets whistled past my window and exploded, a few seconds later, with a thunderous noise. It is a common occurrence here in Mogadishu. Every day dozens of rockets and mortars claim the lives of innocent civilians living in areas often far away from the battle fronts. Despite living in a hotel protected by large slabs of concrete, the power of the explosion threw me to the ground. Soon the pervasive smell of gunpowder filled the corridors of the hotel. It was a harrowing experience, and though I had expected my journey to be very dangerous, the moment of explosion completely dismantled my determination. For a while the whistling sound continued, as I lay flat on the ground, followed shortly by large explosions. Once the hailstorm had subsided and things appeared normal again, I went out in response to the neighbour’s loud bellows of rage.

Outside the shattered tin-roofed house, Amina Hussein, a nurse at the local clinic, screamed her lungs out. Rummaging through the debris and gesticulating wildly, Amina had to be restrained by a group of women standing nearby. And as the crowd consoled the grief-stricken nurse, I peered into the destroyed house. Through the ruins, and illuminated by the sun’s rays seeping through the small openings, I was confronted by a horrific scene. Digging through the rubble along with some helpers, we quickly uncovered the four bodies. The nurse’s husband and three children, lying peacefully next to each other, were all covered in blood. Dressed in what seemed like a colourfully embroidered frock, the state of the youngest daughter, no more than five years of age, was perhaps the most shocking. Shrapnel had completely punctured her delicate body while blood slowly trickled out of her beautiful face.

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Missiles Rock Mogadishu

Mogadishu is under attack. Dozens of BM rockets, as they are called here, fired by the AMISOM forces have crippled the busy Bakara market and brought the entire business hub of Mogadishu into a complete standstill. Just as worshipers exited the mosques, after noon prayer today, the rockets fell. Hundreds of people in the market scrambled for safety, some hiding under concrete buildings and others rushing back into the mosques.

I had just left my apartment and decided to meet a journalist, Keyse, for lunch when the shelling began. Squeezing through the riotous crowds of shoppers, hawkers, tea ladies and past the tightly crammed stalls whose fetid odour assaulted our senses, medicine shops and juice bars, we made our way to Tawakkal Restaurant, a fairly clean and quiet place compared to the other noisy eating places in Bakara. But just before we could enter the restaurant, the sound of a rocket fired caught Keyse’s attention. Being still fairly new to this war-torn city, my senses were not quite alert yet, though I am now slowly becoming attuned to the music of mortars.

The frenzied look on my friend’s face explained it all. Without a second spared, we dashed into the nearest building, hurdling past donkey carts, screaming kids and stumbling women. Though it becomes the natural instinct to help the elderly and the weak when in need, but during times like these, and in Mogadishu’s mayhem, it is every man for his own. Several rockets, whose whistling noise was enough to send fear running through your veins, fell a few streets away from where we were.

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AMISOM Mortars Claim More Lives

While the rest of the world welcomed April with a feeling of unrestrained joviality, it was a sombre mood here in Mogadishu. For many of the weary Mogadishans living in these dismal blocks of concrete and tin-roofed houses, their mornings began with – well, the usual – death. No convivial atmosphere greeted them and no cheerful jokes made the rounds in the streets, for as March ended and the residents recoiled from the round of mortars that had crippled them, another greeted them.

Mogadishu knows no April fools day. Everything is real here.

Yesterday evening at around 5 PM, just as the workers returned home from a hard day’s work and reached their houses to spend some time with their families, the menacing sound of mortars began. AMISOM forces dished out their daily allotment of mortars to the unsuspecting civilians.

When a battle, between Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam on one side and the TFG forces on the other, raged on for a few hours in the once upper-class district of Hodan, some 500 metres away from the Ugandan base and now one of the many fronts in Mogadishu, AMISOM’s reply was unmistakably loud and clear.

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Al-Shabaab: On Pirates

Sheikh Ali Dheere, Al-Shabaab Spokesman

For the last few days, Mogadishans here have been fuming with anger; they are angry with the pirates. Though majority of Somalis supported their adventures as they hijacked ships from the sea, now it seems that the pirates have veered a few knots off course.

More than a week ago, a group of pirates hijacked 10 ships from the Somali coast through a series of co-ordinated attacks. The unusual thing this time is that all the ships were Somali-owned and belonged to a group of Somali businessmen. This is what  has infuriated the Somali public.

The issue sparked a heated debate on radio stations across Mogadishu and the indignant cries of the public filled the airwaves.

For the first time also Al-Shabaab, the Islamist group controlling much of Southern Somalia, spoke out about the pirates in public. Angered by the pirates’ actions as well as the foreseeable consequences their actions may have on the stability of the regions they govern, Al-Shabaab assured the public that these actions were not happening with their connivance and demanded the pirates to release the ships. Enunciating their stance on the matter, Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Raage said at a press conference:

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A Mogadishu Morning: Guns and Grenades

Militiaman Fires a Heavy Machine Gun

I woke up to the sounds of heavy gunfire this morning, and so did the residents of Mogadishu. Though at times peaceful, unexpected battles take place at Mogadishu’s front lines. This morning the forces of Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen launched a surprise attack on the defences of the government troops. After a heavy exchange of gunfire in a battle that lasted an hour or so, the local radio stations reported that Al-Shabaab have taken over Shibis district headquaters – one of the main strongholds of the TFG.

By conceding defeat in this district also to the Shabaab, the government now retains only 3 districts under its control; namely, Xamar Weyne, Xamar Jajab, Wadajir – that is three districts out of the total of 18! They are also present in the district of Shangani but do not control the whole district.

Since the government’s announcement of a major offensive, Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, the two Islamist groups confronting the feeble TFG, have been gradually advancing towards the Presidential Palace – which is now merely a few hundred metres from where the battle took place this morning – and the government troops seem to be extremely unsuccessful in keeping their grounds, let alone regaining lost territory. Now they are all cornered into a few blocks and the sea is behind them. A few weeks ago they launched an offensive, accompanied by Ugandan tanks, but failed miserably in their attempt and retreated with a wounded pride and morale as Al-Shabaab took over Global Hotel, a very strategic location in Cabdicaziiz district.

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Maxamad Dheere: An Incompetent Appointee


Imagine that a stray bullet, one of the thousands that constantly whiz past you in this deadly city, dislodged itself in your mother’s heart. Quite a normal thing, considering the situation we are in. So you quickly rush her to hospital, hoping that she stays alive at least until you reach there. You put her on the stretcher expecting that the doctor, assessing the severity of the situation, would instantaneously drag her into the theatre for that life saving operation. But no – you are told, instead, to pay upfront the operation cost, the admin fees as well as extra for the services of the handlers; all this while she profusely bleeds beside you. You came in a rush and were perhaps a little too traumatized to remember bringing some sacks of money along with you, so throw yourself at the compassion of the doctors. You march restlessly to and fro pleading with them and promising them that you will bring the money. ‘Just begin the operation please, I will go and get the money,’ you scream but to no avail. The doctor informs you that the hospital operates under the instructions of the governor and he has laid down these rules.

You stare on despairingly as your mother convulses with agony on the stretcher, her blood gently dripping onto the concrete. Her listless body begins to deteriorate as life slowly seeps out of it; her face gradually loses colour and her eyes fade away against her pallid features. Only a few meters away from the operating theatre, she breathes her last as you look on helplessly.

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AMISOM: Peacekeepers or Warmongers?



AMISOM troops

Despite the much perpetuated myth of AMISOM’s (African Union Mission in Somalia) so-called peacekeeping mission in the media, the situation on the ground here significantly differs from what we were used to hearing. Skim through the international dailies or the countless number of websites and you might read lines that conjure up images of heroic Ugandan and Burundi soldiers courageously defending the teetering government from the Islamist advancement.

It sounds plausible, perhaps even a little moving too, if you were a middle-aged Liverpudlian civil servant that is. But the reality, as I have recently come to realise, is quite different. Much like the Ethiopians before them, the AMISOM forces have earned for themselves the vengeful wrath of the local population. Ingrained in the hearts of the residents here is not a warm admiration for the Ugandans and Burundis, as well as the TFG, but rather a strong feeling of hate and dislike, particularly in the Bakaara Market.

In their attempt to bolster the fragile government’s authority, the AMISOM forces have been involved in almost a daily shelling campaign of Mogadishu’s residents. Hardly a day passes by in Mogadishu without hearing the sound of missiles and mortars being fired into crowded residential or shopping areas.

While walking in the crowded Bakara market, Mogadishu’s business hub, I heard the sound of a mortar that had just landed some blocks away. I have come to learn the different sounds of guns here in Mogadishu because of their constant use.

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