By Mohamed Olad Hassan
Friday, June 9, 2006
MOGADISHU, Somalia, June 8 -- Islamic militia leaders who seized Somalia's capital this week started discussing the future of the lawless country Thursday with its largely powerless U.N.-backed government.
A government spokesman, Abdirahman Nur Mohamed Dinari, said two ministers from the interim administration were meeting with "top leaders of the Islamic Courts Union" in Mogadishu.
The Islamic militia captured the capital and surrounding areas Monday when it defeated an alliance of secular warlords widely believed to be backed by the United States. Weeks of bloody fighting between the two sides left at least 330 people dead, many of them civilians caught in the crossfire.
The weak interim government, wracked by infighting, has not been able to move into the capital because of the violence, instead operating 155 miles away in Baidoa.
The growing power of the Islamic militia raised fears that Somalia could fall under the sway of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's terrorist group.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, have confirmed cooperating with the secular warlords in an attempt to root out terrorists.
U.S. officials said recently that Islamic leaders in Mogadishu are sheltering three al-Qaeda leaders indicted in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The same al-Qaeda cell is believed to be responsible for the 2002 attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, in which three bombers killed themselves and 12 others, and a simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner over Kenya.
In a letter to the United States and other governments, the chairman of the Islamic Courts Union said the United States bore some blame for the bloodshed.
"The alleged support of the U.S. government to these warlords has contributed considerably to the recent fighting in Mogadishu and the killing of the Somali people who have suffered so long in the hands of these warlords," read a letter dated Wednesday and signed by Sharif Ahmed.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed that the Islamic Courts Union had sent a letter to the United States.
Somalia has been without a real government since largely clan-based warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on one another, dividing this nation of more than 8 million into a patchwork of rival fiefdoms.
The interim government includes several members allied with the Islamic courts. As the court militia gained power, four government cabinet members loyal to the secular alliance were fired, further weakening the alliance.
Remaining members of the alliance were trying to regroup in Jowhar, their last remaining stronghold, about 60 miles from the capital. If militiamen capture Jowhar and consolidate power in Mogadishu, the Islamic Courts Union will effectively control all the major towns in southern Somalia.