Competing Interests

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Somali transitional parliament is slated in coming weeks to elect a new president. The new government will have to contend with an array of characters and interests in a country that maintains a strong system of clan organization but has failed to establish a central government since 1991. The players:

· Islamic Courts Union: An Islamist coalition that in June 2006 seized Mogadishu from U.S.-backed warlords and extended its control to parts of the south. Fled the capital in December of that year when Ethiopian and Somali government forces took the city.

· Al-Shabab: Originally the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union, the radical group broke away and began a campaign to establish its control over parts of southern Somalia. Last year, the U.S. State Department designated the group a terrorist organization.

· Transitional Federal Government: Established in 2000, it has received financial support from the U.S. government and other nations. Its president, Abdullahi Yusuf, assumed office in 2004 but did not enter the capital until January 2007. He stepped down late last month.

· Foreign Troops: Ethiopia sent troops to Somalia in December 2006 to support the transitional government. Those troops removed the Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu. The Ethiopian force withdrew this month. Still present is the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which has about 3,000 troops, although the original peacekeeping plan called for a force of 8,000. The U.N. Security Council last Friday renewed AMISOM's mandate and announced its intention to establish a follow-on force subject to a decision by the council in June.

-- Robert E. Thomason

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