The Press Release Wars

With the world constantly searching for news regarding the situation in Somalia and the international Media still ravenously rummaging for stories regarding the current food crisis, it seems that both the African Union forces and the Islamists are conscientiously attempting to sway public opinion onto their sides respectively. I have been receiving written statements from AMISOM headquarters for quite some time but Al-Shabaab, who are somewhat elusive when it comes to international media, have begun dishing out some well-written press releases.

As the battles in Mogadishu continue to escalate, as predicted, during this Holy month of Ramadan, both Al-Shabaab and AMISOM forces have their own narrative of the events that have transpired over the last four days of fighting. Local Media here in Mogadishu has reported that several Ugandan soldiers and up to 3 unidentified ‘white’ foreigners were killed during yesterday’s suicide attack on an AU base in Wardhiigley by the Islamists. Independent observers and analysts in Mogadishu have also corroborated the findings of the media. But what did the warring parties have to say?

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Al-Shabab: 1977-78 War Veterans Recalled

 

They marched towards the battlefields – at the peak of their prime – overflowing with patriotism and driven by irredentist beliefs and territorial expansion. With guns slung around their shoulders and ardently miming the mellifluous melodies of patriotic songs, the devoted Somali soldiers had one definitive goal in mind: the annexation of Ogadenia or Western Somalia in order to create a Greater Somalia. Today, however, after more than three decades of inaction, the veterans of the 1977-78 Somali-Ethiopian war are singing a different tune and are driven by different motives.

After having survived their sanguinary adventures, the veterans now vow to fight in the name of God to fend off the traditional foe. Burning with vengeance, this time kindled by Al-Shabab’s rapidly spreading ideological beliefs that have engulfed much of Southern and central Somalia, more than 30 of the 1977-78 war veterans from the border region of Gedo have unanimously agreed to join the ranks of Al-Shabab in a move that is considered to be a huge political gain for the Islamists.

Sheikh Mukhtar ‘Abu Mansoor’ Roobow, one of the senior leaders of Al-Shabab, along with the fervent preacher, Sheikh Fu’ad Mohamed Khalaf, are said to have had extensive meetings with the veteran soldiers in Garbahaarey, Gedo’s regional capital. Urging the soldiers to participate in the battles against the Ethiopian troops along the Somali borders, Abu Mansoor called out to the thousands of people that gathered at the scene to welcome the Islamists:

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Mogadishu: The Burundian Nightmare

Burundian Peacekeeper Killed by Al-Shabab

 

As the battle rages on through its sixth day and the capital rocks with explosions and the rattle of gunfire, so does the journey of the corpses of Burundian peacekeeper’s in Somalia. In addition to the seven peacekeepers killed by the Islamists in Wednesday’s raid on the Ministry of Defense building, the corpses of yet another NINE peacekeepers were yesterday paraded around the capital city and neighbouring towns. Claiming to have killed a total of 16 Burundian peacekeepers (plus one taken as prisoner) in the course of the recent battles, Al-Shabab fighters have been receiving an unusual support from many of the displaced population here.

The nine corpses were yesterday driven to Ceelasha Biyaha, apparently after residents there requested to see the corpses of ‘the enemy that has displaced us from our homes.’ It is said that hundreds of angry people had gathered at the scene. Many of them accused the peacekeepers of deliberately targeting and shelling populated residential areas in the capital, thus forcing them to relocate to Ceelasha Biyaha or Afgooye. A woman, speaking to local radio stations, said:
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Burundian Peacekeepers Killed in Mogadishu

 

Brundian Peacekeeper Killed by Al-Shabab

 

 

Our message to Uganda and Burundi is this: that as long as a single Somali Muslim remains alive on this soil, erase the notion from your hearts that you will be able to conquer this country – whatever might you exert. By the will of Allah this will never happen, for we are a people who will sacrifice our souls in order to defend our religion, our people and our country. We will never allow you to violate our sanctity’

These were the words of Al-Shabab’s spokesman Sheikh Ali mohamoud Rage ‘Ali Dheere’ as he delivered his speech standing beside the corpses of at least 7 Burundian peacekeeper killed by the Islamists in this morning’s deadly battle. Emphatically expressed in a vigorous tone beaming with certitude, the spokesman’s words, along with the gruesome images of blood-stained corpses of the Burundian peacekeepers, were intended to cause revebreations farther away from home. They were intended for an international audience!

In this open-air mortuary of a city, the ghastly images of the peacekeepers’ bruised and half-naked bodies drew a very large crowd as usual. Chanting slogans of ‘Allahu Akbar’ or ‘God is Great’ that electrified the scene, the crowd danced around the corpses in a tumultuous excitement, each person eager to kick , drag or hurl insults at the fallen soldiers. A gloomy sepulchural atmosphere overwhelmed the senses, but with such an uproarious crowd it is often easy to forget that the corpses that lay beside the puddles of blood were once soldiers who, like the thousands of their comrades in Mogadishu, believed with conviction that they were serving a just cause; that they were saviours of the Somali people.

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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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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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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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Al-Qaeda in Somalia

It may sound plausible; Yemeni Alqaeda would perhaps be welcomed by the thousands of Al-Shabaab fighters eager to receive them and they may even be garlanded with wreaths by Al-Shabaab’s unwavering local supporters.

But when Somalia’s Treasury Minister, Omar Osman, tells the world that according to the TFG’s superb ‘intelligence’ (who can’t seem to locate or capture even one of the thousands of Al-Shabaab youths by the way), 12 members of Al-Qaeda have crossed from Yemen into Somalia, what was the implication of his message?

Perhaps it was to distract the world’s attention away from the failing government and point the beacon away from the chaotic situation of the Somali parliament. Parliamentarians have been at loggerheads with each other lately – particularly with the parliament speaker, Adan Madoobe, whom more than 75 MPs are forcefully urging to step down. But of course, he refused. And soon we might witness another classic parliament brawl

The MPs have also criticized the embattled government for doing nothing to improve the security situation of the country and also accused Shekh Sharif of spending his time jet-hopping instead of tending to the affairs of the country. The government did not sit idly too as it was reprimanded but instead retaliated and banned the MPs today from holding any meetings.

So with a country in such a mess, it is only a wonder how the Treasury Minister got his information! Good detective work, Mr. Osman, but though this story of yours may sell in Western publications, even the young shoe shiners of these ruthless Mogadishu streets will laugh at you when they hear your tale.

Regurgitating old Al-Qaeda tales is only fit for western consumption. Here in Mogadishu, the TFG has become but a laughing stock. But since Osman and his ministry are quite accustomed to taking bribes, perhaps he aims to point out that either Somaliland or Puntland is an accomplice in helping the Al-Qaeda fighters to cross into Southern Somalia.

And with the long awaited offensive now turning out to be simply a gradual push, and Kenya denying the TFG’s request for some troops, perhaps Osman’s attempt was to titillate the ears of the West once again with some poorly crafted Al-Qaeda fables.

The Sufi Disintegration Phase – 2

Continued from The Sufi Disintegration Phase 1

We continue to look at the gradual decline of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaaca.

Politically:

The merger of the Sufis with the TFG could not come at a worse time. When internal strife had debilitated the energy of the group, the Ethiopians concluded the merger between them and the TFG. Though the aim of the merger was also partly to save the Sufis from disintegration, it was primarily two-fold:

  • To bolster the weak government’s deteriorating credibility by allowing it to claim the few successes of the Sufis in Guriceel and Dhuusamareeb.

  • To pressure the Islamists in the middle regions so as to reduce the pressure from Mogadishu

The results, however, were quite the opposite. The Sufis and their allied TFG forces met with a series of defeats in Galguduud and Hiiraan after their initial victories. Now the Sufis are confined to Galguduud region and maintain only the towns of Guriceel, Dhuusamareeb and Caabudwaaq under their control, with the towns of Ceelbuur, Galhariiri, Wabxo, Warxoolo, Maxaas and Ceelgaras under Al-Shabaab. Many of the prominent Sufi leaders also criticized the deal and the political wrangle between its top leaders did not go unnoticed, despite the media’s attempts to bury it.

At a press conference in Nairobi the Vice Chairman of Ahlu Sunna, Sheikh Hassan Sheikh Abdi convened a meeting to openly denounce the deal. The main cause of the split in the Sufi leadership is a complex clan structures. Sufis are comprised of a Hawiye and a Darood group, all sharing one common goal, i.e. to avenge their scholars. But with the merger, it emerged that since the parliament and allocation of seats were based on a 4.5 formula, the few Darood clans would receive nothing; therefore they all denounced the deal. A power struggle ensued, with the Darood elements of the Sufis disowning the deal and intending to retain the name of the group for themselves and the Hawiye tribes eager to join the TFG.

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When Qat Rules…The Soldier Obeys


Qat

The putrid stench of blood waylays the senses as you walk past the covered bodies on the pavement. Blood, like depressing murals, paints a permanent sketch of red on the walls. Huddled around the corner, some few metres away, are the government troops, a rag-tag militia trained to serve as troops, dressed in a mismatch of colours and slinging their guns on their shoulders.

But despite the disparity in their uniform, they all share one thing in common: they are obsessed with Qat, a mild stimulant thought to produce a feeling of euphoria. And that is where the problem lies.

The corpses that lay lifeless on the pavement were all shot down by the government troops during their scuffle for Qat. At least 5 were reported to have been killed and several others injured. Incidents like these have become increasingly common among the TFG forces and tensions between the soldiers usually arise during their Qat sessions, as these are moments of absentmindedness and unrestrained feelings of elation. A drugged soldier with a gun.

But when the entity that was supposedly meant to govern the public and ensure their safety eats itself on the inside, because of a bundle of dry leaves, what remains of the governed?

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