between Somalia's transitional government and Islamic militants
has escalated dangerously, as Islamist leaders threaten Jihad
"holy war" against advancing government troops spearheaded
by allied Ethiopian forces approaching Mogadishu, held since
last June by Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC), also named
Islamic Courts Union (ICU) alliance. The ICU seized the capital
from U.S.-backed warlords, also taking control of parts of southern
Somalia. For months, foreign Islamic radicals have been trickling
into Somalia to fight on behalf of the Islamic movement. According
to a UN report last October, Eritrea--Ethiopia's neighbour and
longtime adversary--has alone dispatched some 2,000 troops to
Somalia to fight the Ethiopian-backed central government.
Initially led by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed Muhammad,
the Islamic Courts Union (Midowga Maxkamadaha Islaamiga), a
loosely-organized body of 11 autonomous courts in the capital,
Mogadishu, wants to implement Sunni Shari'a in the entire country.
Another key figure in the ICU is Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys,
the leader of al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, an Islamist movement that
has been around since the 1970s, pushing for the implementation
of strict Shari'a across the entire Horn of Africa. Aweys has
admitted meeting with al-Qaeda leaders and is wanted by the
United States for involvement with al-Qaeda killing 18 US Army
Rangers ( "Blackhawk Down") during the failed United
Nations intervention in Somalia in 1992. In fact, Middle East
intelligence sources claim that the Islamist group has already
firm ties affiliated to Al Qaeda. On June 30, Osama bin Laden
released a tape calling on Muslims to support the Islamic courts
and to open a third front in the war against the United States
in Somalia. It is now feared, that the conflict in Somalia could
engulf the entire Horn of Africa region, as Islamic Courts leaders
have repeatedly claimed, that they want to incorporate ethnic
Somalis living in eastern Ethiopia, northeastern Kenya and Djibouti
into a Greater Somalia.
Tehran is already busy in providing secret support
for the Islamic Courts Union. Besides the possibility
of gaining access to uranium deposits in Somalia, influence
in Somalia gives Iran a foothold on the strategic Horn
The Horn of Africa - including
Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, is a region
of strategic importance. Due to its strategic location,
it has been used to restrict access to the Red Sea in
past conflicts. But in recent decades the Horn of Africa
has also been a region continuously in crisis.
a nominally Christian country surrounded by Muslim states -
Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti - has expressed grave reservations
at the emergence of another Islamist state next door. They have
kept a very close watch on events in Somalia- especially the
recent appearance of al Qaeda elements backed by Iran.
Somalia and Ethiopia share a long border - over 1,600 km. -
and relations between the two countries have always been turbulent.
Somalia lost a bloody war over Ethiopia's Somali-populated Ogaden
region in 1977-1978. The war was initiated by General Mohamed
Siad Barre in an attempt to create a Greater Somalia. Ethiopia
considers the Ogaden as the corridor to its sole outlet to the
sea at the big port of Djibouti, a highly strategic location,
astride the point where the Indian Ocean converges with the
Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Experts fear,
that large-scale war escalating in Somalia involving Ethiopia
would, in all likelihood, drag in further African nations into
a regional conflict-backed by al Qaeda, which is seeking new
venues for its global terrorist activities.
Some major Middle East players and primarily Iran, are taking
a new look at the strategic Horn of Africa and lawless Somalia
seems to be the ideal place for Tehran's regional ambitions.
Iran's interest in the Indian Ocean region have been confirmed
already with the International Conference on the Indian Ocean
community, held in Teheran in mid-November 1996. Recently these
interest received new impetus, when Iran and Djibouti discussed
avenues for bolstering bilateral relations and issues of mutual
concern. Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh, who arrived
here last September for a three-day visit in Tehran at the head
of a high-ranking politico-economic delegation, met with Iranian
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
Tehran is already busy in providing secret support for the
Islamic Courts Union.Besides the possibility of gaining access
to uranium deposits in Somalia, influence in Somalia gives Iran
a foothold on the strategic Horn of Africa. This, combined with
Iran's dominant position on the Staits of Hormuz, gives Iran
leverage over two crucial shipping channels. Somalia is already
a haven for piracy, and with professional help, this piracy
could become a major international problem.
A United Nations monitoring group has stated that Iran has
recently provided at least three consignments of arms. In a
detailed report, Tehran has supplied a consignment including
1,000 machine guns, 45 surface-to-air missiles, M-79 rocket
launchers and land mines. One particular shipment of arms arrived
at the Baledogle airport and was met by no less than the ICU
head of the security affairs,Yusuf Mohammed Siyyad and the chairman
of the Dayniile court Sheikh Hussein Janaqow.
But Iran seems much more interested in obtaining access to
Somalia's U238 Uranium ore. According to a confidential United
Nations report Iran tries to obtain uranium from Somalia in
return for supplying weapons to the ICU. Iran promised the Islamists
further weapons – but only in return for uranium, presumably
for use in Teheran's nuclear programme.
Two Iranian experts were recently sent to Mogadishu in order
to negotiate this deal. While Somalia's recoverable uranium
deposits are modest, totalling about 6,600 tonnes, compared
with 326,000 tonnes in Canada, they are nevertheless more accessible
to the Ayathollah's nuclear program.. Iran appears to be trying
to win rights to exploit these deposits, which could then be
shipped directly to Iran, through Mogadishu's large port. An
intelligence report mentioned Iranian experts negotiating with
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweysin Dusa Mareb engaged in matters linked
to uranium in exchange for arms.
While the present fighting goes on between the ICU, backed
by a massive influx of volunteers from Eritrea and other Muslim
countries and Ethiopia, which is supporting the Somalia's powerless
transitional government, the origins of the conflict hark back
to rivalries in the Horn of Africa, which are complicated by
broader Muslim Arab resentment of Christian rule in the region.
Strangely enough, both Ethiopia and Eritrea are two predominantly
Christian nations. Ethiopia with a population of 73 million
and tiny Eritrea with 4.5 million - who are half-and-half Christian
and Muslim, but are at daggers drawn. Moreover, Ethiopian prime
minister Meles Zenawi and Eritrean president Isaias Afworky
are third cousins and sworn enemies. Their enmity has led them
already into four major confrontations in four years.
Fighting now on
both sides of the Somalian war, the Eritrean government
allegedly provided at least 28 separate consignments of
arms, ammunition and military equipment. Last April a
shipment of arms destined for ICU consisting of ex-Soviet
assault rifles, PKM machine-guns, RPG-7s and ammunition
arrived on a dhow at the seaport of El Ma'an. In May,
an Eritrean Antonov military aircraft landed at Dhusamareeb
in the Galgaduud region.
Strangely enough, both Ethiopia and Eritrea,
fighting aganist each other, are two predominantly Christian
nations. Ethiopia with a population of 73 million and
tiny Eritrea with 4.5 million - who are half-and-half
Christian and Muslim, but are at daggers drawn. Moreover,
Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi and Eritrean president
Isaias Afworky are third cousins and sworn enemies
Indeed, arms are not lacking in the Horn of Africa conflict.
Yemen, on the other side of the "Horn" has served
as a leading smuggling route for Al Qaeda from the Gulf to the
Horn of Africa. Only recently eight foreigners including four
with Australian passports have been arrested for trying to smuggle
weapons from Yemen to Somalia. Two were identified by security
agents as brothers, Mohammed Ayub and Abdullah Ayub - sons of
the former leader of Jemaah Islamiah in Australia, Abdul Rahim
Ayub, his radical Southeast Asian Islamic group is held responsible
by the CIA and Asian intelligence services for a series of bombing
attacks on the island of Bali and in Jakarta, and is thought
to have close ties to al-Qaeda.
Yemeni officials said in a statement posted on the state-run
newsagency that investigations indicated they were members of
Al Qaeda, all four have been studying at the Islamist Iman University,
which is run by Sheik Abdul-Majid Al-Zindani. The United States
lists Al-Zindani as an Al-Qaeda supporter.
It is no secret that Al Qaeda affiliated members of the Yemeni
military and security forces are aiding terrorists. A Yemeni
government official stated that "subversive" (Al Qaeda)
elements of Yemen’s secret service have established training
camps for Iraqi Baathists who later fight in Iraq. Dhows sailing
from Yemen to the north-east coast of Somalia carry much of
the traffic. Most shipments go unnoticed and unreported, many
to the main port of the region, Boosaaso. The bulk of the merchandise
is destined for Mogadishu, the hub of the Somali arms trade.
It remains to be seen where this new conflict is heading for-
perhaps another choke point for the War on Glonal Terrorism?
Read David Eshel's past commentary here