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Ethiopians Closing In On Capital of Somalia

For his part, Ethiopia's Meles has described his own military intervention as self-defense.

Ethiopia and the United States have accused the Courts movement of harboring terrorists, a charge the organization has denied. Opposition groups in Ethiopia have said Meles, who supplies intelligence to the United States on Somalia, has exaggerated the terrorism claim to win U.S. support as his increasingly authoritarian government stands accused of human rights violations.

The United States and Ethiopia have been of one mind that a complete takeover of Somalia by the Islamic Courts is unacceptable, because of fears that the country could become a base for Muslim extremists.

Yet U.S. policy in Somalia has been widely criticized for having the opposite of its intended effect, often encouraging the expansion of the Courts movement.

This year, the United States supported warlords who called themselves an "anti-terrorism" coalition. The warlords generally bribed and terrorized ordinary Somalis, who came to despise them. The Islamic Courts came to power as an alternative to the hated warlords, establishing order based on Islamic law village by village and earning widespread support from beleaguered Somalis tired of 15 years of near-anarchy.

More recently, perceived U.S. support for Ethiopia, like U.S. sponsorship of the U.N. resolution calling for the African Union deployment, appears to have been used by the Courts movement to rally support.

Staff writer Dafna Linzer in New York contributed to this report.

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