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Somalia's Future Hinges on Victors' Laws

"The moderates in the Islamic Courts Union, who follow the old school of thought, were only interested in kicking out the warlords and turning the city over to the transitional government," Jamal said.

"The radicals, mostly educated in Saudi Arabia, however, enjoy most of the power right now" and want a strict Islamic government.

The radicals see clan politics as their biggest obstacle to Taliban-style rule, Jamal added.

For example, secular warlord Muse Sudi Yalahow, while defeated militarily, has been able to rally his Abgal clan in northern Mogadishu to denounce the Islamic courts as just another clan-based militia, not a religious order. Abgal elders have called on Sheikh Ahmed to quit the union and "rejoin his clan."

Competition for power and resources between the dozens of clans and sub-clans has been the cause of most of Somalia's problems since rebels overthrew dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991.

The deaths of 18 American soldiers in 1992, made famous in "Black Hawk Down," were the result of a U.S. attempt to prop up a U.N.-backed government by taking out a powerful clan warlord.

The United Nations withdrew from Somalia in 1995, leaving the warlords to divide up the country and to extort as much money as possible from its 8 million citizens. After the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. agents began working informally with some of the secular warlords to monitor terrorist activity and snatch al-Qaida suspects using the country as a rear base for attacks on Western targets in Kenya and Tanzania.

U.S. officials said recently that Islamic leaders in Mogadishu are sheltering three al-Qaida leaders indicted in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The same al-Qaida cell is believed responsible for the 2002 suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya, which killed 15 people, and a simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner over Kenya.

Earlier this year, though, the United States covertly began cooperating with an alliance of secular warlords fighting the Islamic militia in an attempt to root out terrorists. But now that the Islamic militia controls nearly all of southern Somalia, the United States has adopted a more conciliatory tone.

The United States said Friday it was inviting European and African countries to a meeting in New York next week on ways to deal with the Islamic militias. The gathering will mark the inaugural meeting of what will become a permanent mechanism for interested nations to devise common strategies on Somalia, known as the Somalia Contact Group.

Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer will head the U.S. delegation to the meeting. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said a goal of the meeting will be to support the transitional government.

Jamal and Prendergast both agree that this is the only way the United States can engage Somalia without provoking more of the anti-American sentiment created by U.S. cooperation with the warlords. With the secular warlords struggling to maintain enough forces to merely survive, the transitional government offers the only substitute for a radical Islamic republic in Somalia.


Associated Press reporters in Mogadishu, Somalia, contributed to this report.

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© 2006 The Associated Press