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In Somalia This Week

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In Somalia This Week

Posted by Laura Heaton on May 27, 2009

Fresh fighting in the Somali capital of Mogadishu early today claimed the lives of seven more civilians and two government soldiers. Islamist insurgents fired several rounds of mortars at the presidential palace, but they missed their target and hit instead a residential area, according to a military spokesperson quoted by the AP.

As the death toll from recent fighting reaches nearly 200 and a humanitarian disaster brews on the outskirts of the capital, where tens of thousands have fled, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to extend its backing of the peacekeeping mission in Somalia, AMISOM, which is manned by 4,300 African Union troops. Those troops have been battling it out alongside Somali security forces to defend the capital from an offensive launched by radical Islamist forces. Many fear that this recent wave of violence may topple Somalia’s nascent transitional government, which rose to power in January in what was widely viewed as the country’s most promising development in nearly 20 years of anarchic unrest.

This fear explains why the United Nations also agreed yesterday to pay for the extended mandate with assessed funds from the United Nations peacekeeping budget – money that donor countries provide to the international body as part of their dues – rather than with funds pledged by countries for this particular mission. Drawing directly from the U.N. coffers, rather than waiting for donor countries to pony up the additional funding, provides the peacekeeping mission and Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s government with a measure of stability, at least when it comes to its funding source.

"We understand it will be somewhere between $200 million and $300 million during the course of the year ahead. That money, once it is agreed within the U.N. system, will be guaranteed to support AMISOM," said Britain’s U.N. Ambassador John Sawers, according to Reuters.

Upwards of 60,000 people have fled the violence in Mogadishu in recent weeks and have made their way to camps outside of the capital. According to Reuters AlertNet, a large portion of the displaced are traveling southwest out of town and settling in the makeshift camps in the Afgooye corridor, which already hosted an estimated 400,000 persons.

The deteriorating security situation has sharply decreased humanitarian space in the conflict area, hampering the delivery of aid to the displaced. Even local agencies that have often provided a lifeline to the IDPs are encountering new risks as they try to help out the needy.

An excellent piece from the New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman over the weekend looked at how the increased chaos in the country is now fueling more ideological battles throughout the country. Profiling the traditionally pacifist Sufi Muslim clerics who have recently taken up arms against the Shabab, the extremist group said to have links to al-Qaeda, Gettleman conveys that the recent surge in violence is not just more-of-the-same upheaval Somalia has seen in recent years. Here’s his assessment:

It is an Islamist versus Islamist war, and the Sufi scholars are part of a broader moderate Islamist movement that Western nations are counting on to repel Somalia’s increasingly powerful extremists. Whether Somalia becomes a terrorist incubator and a genuine regional threat — which is already beginning to happen, with hundreds of heavily armed foreign jihadists flocking here to fight for the Shabab — or whether this country finally steadies itself and ends the years of hunger, misery and bloodshed may hinge on who wins these battles in the next few months.

And to affirm this point, Gettleman quotes Rashid Abdi, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, in a particularly alarming passage: “We’re on terra incognito,” Abdi said. “Before, everything was clan. Now we are beginning to see the contours of an ideological, sectarian war in Somalia for the first time, and that scares me.”