Sunday, December 19, 2010

Worst new year message for Somalia.

By Guled Mohamed

December 20, Mogadishu - Somalia's restive capital woke up to shocking news of the merger of two militant groups, Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabab which continues to fight against government forces and African Union peacekeepers in the lawless country.

The word in the streets of Mogadishu is this latest amalgamation after it emerged on Sunday that Hizbul Islam has officially joined Al-Shabab, their former perennial rivals. There could never be a worse New Year message to the war-weary Somalis like this latest merger.

Hizbul Islam chairman Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and a few of his top commanders reportedly joined Al-Shabab following recent secret talks in a bid to save their own skin following recent battles with Al-Shabab which captured several towns from Hizbul Islam including Bur Hakaba.

Al-Shabab fighters were actually preparing to retake Afgoye town from Hizbul Islam before news of the merger emerged. Afgoye is a rich agriculral village located 30 km east of the capital Mogadishu. It is also a commercially important town as it is located at an intersection of the roads leading to Kismayu, Baidoa and the central regions of Somalia.

These two rival Islamist groups have been fighting for supremacy in Somalia at the expense of ordinary poor population. They recently squad-off in Bakara market killing dozens of one another. Assassination attempts of their top leadership had become a daily norm and they have also fought over the limited resources in Somalia.

Many people are wondering what their merger will add to the already volatile situation in Somalia. To be sincere their marriage of convenience will not add anything given that they were both fighting the TFG and AMISOM and that they had their own internal rifts and infighting.

Mohamed Osman Arus, a spokesman for Hizbul Islam confirmed the merger saying, "Yes, we have merged and we are now one group. Our forces are now fighting together," witnesses confirmed that Hizbul islam fighters in several locations in Mogadishu are now fighting as Al-Shabab militants.

The latest merger is however opposed by some Hizbul Islam hardliners including Maalim Hashi, Hassan Mahdi and a few other top commanders who are believed to be contemplating to join the government should the said merger materialize. This could not however be independently verified as both Maalim Hashi and Hassan Mahdi's phone numbers were off.

Mogadishu residents are skeptical of the latest merger of the two rival Islamist groups and believe it will only add fuel to the already volatile situation in Somalia.

“Somalia is so unfortunate and has so many enemies. The people were really enthusiastic about the new Prime Minister and his cabinet. I sometimes wonder because whenever there is a glimpse of hope in Somalia someone somewhere simply scuttles it. This merger between Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabab will only add fuel to the fire. They have no good intentions for us, they simply want to finish off the few ordinary Somalis who have survived their unholy war,” Resident Osman Mohamed, 60, said looking pensive

These two groups have traditionally been Somalia's biggest opposition groups. They continue to jointly control large swathes of land in Somalia including pockets of the capital Mogadishu, Kismayu and most other parts of southern, eastern and western Somalia.

Some believe the merger is a plot by Sheikh Aweys, Somalia's cynical Islamist leader and the father of militancy in Somalia to topple Al-Shabab, his biggest opponents to ascending to power in Somalia.

But for Sheikh Aweys it looks like he has decided to take his worst enemy from within. Well as they say if you cannot beat them, simply join them.

Will it be easy for Sheikh Aweys or the Red Fox as he is known around for his red dyed beards to topple Al-Shabab from the inside? Many Somalis would gladly hope so but it will not be a walk in the park for Mr. Aweys.

Al-Shabab is led and financed by foreign fugitives who have no intention of seeing peace in Somalia simply because their survival depends on the raging war. The more fighting and people dying in Somalia, the safer they are. That is the unfortunate reality Somalis find themselves in.

"These fugitves are playing the religious card to their advantage. If the jihad they are propagating is really true why didn't they start it in their own home countries, I sometimes wonder who is fooling who. My Somali brothers who have fallen for this religious nonsense are either doing it for the money or simply too ignorant to know the truth," wondered Ali Abdullahi, another Mogadishu resident.

This is what might happen in the coming weeks if the said merger is true and is actually implemented.

Expect bloodier fighting in the Somali capital Mogadishu meaning many innocent civilians will continue to die in this unnecessary war. The new Al-Shabab outift might not necessarily make any progress in the battle fields simply because the African Union peacekeepers in Somalia are too strong for the ragtag Islamist militias.

Worse of all for Al-Shabab is that the Somali government forces are said to be in high spirits following plans to finally pay them their dues or stipends in the coming weeks or so. TFG Soldiers often fight alongside AU peacekeepers and actually make up the first frontline. News of their long awaited stipends will surely given them a reason to resist any Al-Shabab offensive.

This can only mean one thing then, we should expect a stalemate in the ongoing battles in Mogadishu.

As it has always been it is the Somali public that has and will continue to suffer the greatest burden of this totally unnecessary war in Somalia and until the ordinary people say enough is enough the situation will unfortunately remain the same. More deaths and suffering for the ordinary poor Somali man, woman or child.

As I pen off, I can already hear loud explosions in Mogadishu. Perhaps it’s just another Al-Shabab reminder that they are still around and that the merger is a reality.

Whatever the case I just wonder when the Somali people will eventually realize that bullets, artillery fire and suicide bombers will only cause more deaths and suffering for the poor and further destruction to their already damaged and bullet-poked capital city Mogadishu.

Surely, when will this madness end?