PINR
20 August, 2006
18 August 2006
''Somalia's Conflict Enters a Phase of Duress''

uring the first two weeks of August, conflict in Somalia continued its drift toward armed confrontation between the two major antagonists -- the Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.), which aims at establishing an Islamic regime in the stateless country, and Ethiopia, which is determined to prevent that outcome.

Since June 5, when the I.C.C. drove out the warlords who had controlled Somalia's official capital Mogadishu, the Courts movement has expanded its control throughout the country's south and has recently penetrated the central regions, setting up Shari'a courts, forming local administrations based on agreements with clan elders and militia leaders, and imposing civil order. Throughout its ascent, the I.C.C. has met with little resistance from local populations, has eliminated the few remaining strongholds of warlord power and has isolated the internationally recognized but impotent Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) in its temporary capital, the provincial town of Baidoa.

The only effective check on the I.C.C. has been Ethiopia, which has sent security forces to Baidoa to protect the T.F.G. and has mounted repeated incursions into the regions of Somalia on its eastern border. The persistent surge of the I.C.C. and Ethiopia's counter-measures have produced a stand-off between the adversaries that is fraught with the potential for violent conflict as they move closer to one another's military positions and trade threats.

PINR forecast on August 2 that unless other external actors intervened in the conflict between the I.C.C. and Addis Ababa decisively, polarization and confrontation would intensify, which has proven to be the case.

In the third week of August, the conflict had evolved to a new phase in which all of the players came under duress, pressured by the moves of the major antagonists, who appeared to be reaching the limits of their unopposed power and had entered a period of testing each other's resolve. As the I.C.C.'s expansion and Addis Ababa's incursions closed off room for further maneuver, Somalia moved to the brink of war.

Although it is increasingly likely, armed conflict is not inevitable; either side or both could back down, having decided that a war would be too costly and its results too uncertain to undertake; or external actors -- international and regional organizations, Western powers or neighboring states -- could step in to tip the balance of power one way or the other through robust diplomacy. The latter scenario is unlikely to occur, although Kenya has entered the picture, seeking to mediate between the I.C.C. and T.F.G., and balancing Addis Ababa to the advantage of the I.C.C.

The I.C.C.'s Surge Continues Amid Looming Resistance

Through mid-August, the I.C.C. has remained the protagonist in the conflict, consolidating its rule over the portions of Somalia that it controls and expanding its reach to the country's central regions, north-central coast and west-central interior where it has closed in on the Ethiopian border. With undiminished momentum on the ground, the I.C.C. is positioned favorably to gain advantage in a future power-sharing deal with the T.F.G. or to put all of Somalia south of the breakaway mini-states of Puntland and Somaliland under its rule.

Much of the I.C.C.'s broad popularity is based on its ability to restore civil order to areas controlled by predacious warlords or subject to violent clashes between competing clan militias. Keeping security a top priority, on August 3 the I.C.C. deployed its armed fighters at police stations throughout Mogadishu, turning them into the city's first municipal police force since the city was divided among warlords in 1993. On August 15, the I.C.C. instituted regular police patrols in Mogadishu and announced that it would issue uniforms to the force.

On August 4, the deputy chairman of the I.C.C.'s Consultative Council (legislature) Dr. Umar Abubakar issued an order banning the discharge of heavy weapons in Mogadishu and announced that a ban on carrying such weapons was in the works. On the same day, armed members of opposing clans in the north of the city clashed over the control of a vacant lot, resulting in one death. I.C.C. security forces ended the fight and restored order.

Initiating a new phase of its efforts to create a tight security net, the I.C.C. announced on August 6 that all young men in areas under the Courts' control would be subject to military training for defense against Ethiopia and its domestic allies. Addressing a meeting in Mogadishu's Sili Sili neighborhood, the chair of the I.C.C.'s Executive Council, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, said: "The community of Somalia has passed from the clan era to the Islamic era, and you are the bearers of the ideology."

The intent of the I.C.C. to supplant Somalia's clan-based politics with Islamism was reiterated on August 16, when a new court was opened in Mogadishu's Taleex neighborhood. The court's chairman Sheikh Mahmud Sheikh Ibrahim Suley told the crowd at the inauguration ceremonies that the Somali people had to stop putting "clans before Islam." Ahmed added that Addis Ababa was planning to conquer Somalia "region after region, clan after clan," and to incorporate the country into Ethiopia.

On August 11, the I.C.C. executed its plan to control entry of foreign nationals into Mogadishu, issuing an order to non-governmental organizations, travel agencies, hotels, businesses and individuals, charging them with obtaining a permit from the Courts' Foreign Affairs Department for visitors to the city two weeks in advance of their expected arrival.

The I.C.C. also moved to assert its control over the communications media. On August 3, the director of the I.C.C.'s Information Council, Sheikh Abdul Rahim Ali Mudey, ordered collaboration between the Council and the local media "to assure the public that the anarchy and the lack of regulations in most parts of Somalia are on the verge of ending." Rahim said that there would be workshops for journalists to make sure that their reporting served the "general interest of the people," and observed that "the time anyone would broadcast whatever report they desired is over."

On August 7, the I.C.C. gained its first mass-media outlet, taking over Radio Mogadishu, which was part of the facilities that came under its control when it ousted forces loyal to warlord and T.F.G. deputy prime minister and interior minister Hussein Aideed from his stronghold Villa Somalia on July 27.

The I.C.C.'s strategy of imposing control over ideological and political expression was evidenced on August 17 when its forces broke up a meeting in Mogadishu of the moderate Muslim group al-Islah, which advocates dialogue between the I.C.C. and T.F.G., on the grounds that the organization had not applied for a permit. I.C.C. spokesman Abdul Rahim Ali Mudey explained that the Courts would license meetings so long and they are "not a threat to public safety or Islamic teaching."

Along with tightening its grip on the security and ideological apparatus, the I.C.C. dispensed restorative justice, announcing that houses that had been "forcefully occupied" in Mogadishu's Madina district would be returned to their previous owners, including those in the Somali diaspora.

The I.C.C.'s ability to impose order brought it tangible benefits of wider support. On August 3, the United Nations sent a ten-member delegation to Mogadishu to make preparations for the resumption of humanitarian aid to the city. On August 8, the Somali Trader's Union of Banaadir Region donated US$300,000 to the I.C.C., promising more contributions in the future and pledging to participate in the Courts' "social work." On August 11, Kenyan air carrier African Express Airways announced that it was instituting three regularly scheduled flights per week from Mogadishu's airport, commenting that the airport and the city's seaport were "fully functioning."

As its revolutionary drive proceeded, the I.C.C. appeared to meet with an obstacle on August 11, when I.C.C. ally Yusuf Indha Ade, head of the Lower Shabelle Region, refused to put his forces and their weapons under the control of the I.C.C.'s Mogadishu leadership, declaring that the region is a "separate entity" under his administration.

Throughout the first two weeks of August, the I.C.C. continued its practice of mobilizing the population in mass demonstrations. The most important of them were a rally in Mogadishu on August 11 attended by 2,000 people in support of Lebanon and against the "enemies of Islam" (the United States, Ethiopia and Israel), and demonstrations on August 14 supporting the I.C.C. in the Mudug and Galguduud regions, where the Courts had recently extended their rule.

Overall, the I.C.C.'s efforts to consolidate its rule registered impressive gains through the first two weeks of August. They also revealed the authoritarian tendencies of the revolutionary movement and its intention of tightening its control as rapidly as possible in order to create facts on the ground that would be difficult to reverse in any power-sharing agreement with the T.F.G. or would serve as the basis of a comprehensive I.C.C. regime.

The I.C.C.'s attempts to extend its control over larger swathes of Somalia also continued unabated and met with striking success, so much so that its limits began to be tested. The Courts movement drove forward in three directions -- to the Indian Ocean coastline northeast of Mogadishu, where piracy has been rampant; to the central regions north of the city that border Puntland; and nearly up to the Ethiopian border northwest of Mogadishu. In each case, the I.C.C. came closer to reaching serious resistance to its advance.

The I.C.C.'s most unequivocal victory was its affirmative reception in the towns of Eldher and Harardhere on August 13, and the town of Hobyo on August 16, all of which are located in the coastal Mudug region, which has been the center of piracy that has endangered international shipping running routes from the Persian Gulf through the Mozambique Channel. The Courts had promised to suppress piracy -- a move that would give them international approval -- and taking control of the coastal towns peacefully set them up to fulfill their pledge. On August 15, the pirate gangs were reported to have fled from Harardhere, fearing the punishment of the Shari'a courts, including execution and amputation.

More problematic was the I.C.C.'s advance toward Galkayo, the capital of the Mudug region, the northern portion of which is in Puntland. In late July, the I.C.C. had announced that it would enter Galkayo and set up a Shari'a court there if the population invited them to do so. As the I.C.C. began its advance on Galkayo and local leaders in the south of the town appeared ready to welcome the Courts, the Puntland administration placed its security forces on high alert on August 4 and moved them into the north of the town, vowing to resist any penetration of Puntland by the I.C.C.

On August 6, there were reports that Abdi Qeybdid, a warlord who had been expelled from Mogadishu in July, had lent the support of his militia to the Puntland forces. The I.C.C. responded that it would "not endure" Qeybdid's presence and blamed Puntland for creating a crisis. With 1,000 Courts fighters reported to be massing in the central region, the I.C.C. announced that it would enter the Galkayo area and establish a Shari'a court there.

On August 9, the first serious opposition to the I.C.C.'s advance surfaced in the form of a violent protest demonstration against the I.C.C. in south Galkayo. The protestors, numbering in the hundreds, destroyed posters welcoming the I.C.C. and called on the population to resist the Courts. The demonstration included leaders from Puntland and Ahlu Sunna wal Jama'a, a traditional Muslim group.

By August 10, the I.C.C. forces were in the Galkayo area, setting up roadblocks and vowing to take control of the town. Puntland's president, Adde Muse Hersi, insisted that his forces would "repel" the I.C.C.

On August 11, both sides were preparing for confrontation, as Puntland forces were reported to have infiltrated into south Galkayo and the I.C.C. dispatched a reconnaissance mission to the town. The local administration in south Galkayo, which had been preparing to receive the I.C.C., asked it to remain outside the town temporarily. The stand-off became more tense on August 13, as the I.C.C. deployed its forces closer to Puntland's border.

With armed confrontation looming and Ethiopia posing the greatest threat to the I.C.C., the Courts backed down and met with a delegation from Puntland led by Muse on August 16. Both sides agreed that they would stay in their present positions and would cooperate in joint security operations. It is not clear that the agreement will hold, but the fact that the I.C.C. made it shows that -- at least temporarily -- it has reached a limit. With a functioning administration, Puntland could pose significant resistance to an I.C.C. advance and hamper the Courts' efforts to check Ethiopia.

The most provocative advance of the I.C.C. was to take control of the town of Beledweyne near the Ethiopian border from its local administration on August 9. Beledweyne's T.F.G.-appointed government led by Yusuf Ahmed Hagar had resisted I.C.C. control, though a Shari'a court had already been established there. After some brief clashes with Hagar's loyalists, the I.C.C. drove them from the town. By August 13, Hagar's forces had reportedly regrouped across the border in Ethiopia.

As the I.C.C. built up its forces around Beledweyne, Addis Ababa responded by blocking road traffic across the border and sending troops into Somali border towns to check the I.C.C.'s advance. By August 16, significant concentrations of Ethiopian troops were reported to be in the Balanballe district of the Galguduud region, where they were digging trenches, setting up bases and deploying heavy weaponry.

The results of a possible armed conflict between the I.C.C. and Addis Ababa are uncertain. Were a war to erupt, the I.C.C. would have to bring in forces from elsewhere, leaving itself vulnerable on other fronts; whereas Ethiopia, which is fighting domestic insurgencies and has troops tied down on its border with Eritrea, would find itself stretched if it had to move beyond the border regions and Baidoa.

The price of the success of the I.C.C.'s effort to expand its sphere of control is the high probability that any further attempts to advance will meet with serious military resistance from an alliance of Addis Ababa, Puntland and regrouped warlords, who on August 16 were offered "immunity and safe haven" by the I.C.C. if they returned to Somalia from Ethiopia and embraced the Courts.

As it stands, the I.C.C. has achieved most of its territorial ambitions. Its moves north to eastern, central and western Somalia have given it strategically significant north-south and east-west corridors, which will facilitate defense against an Ethiopian invasion and will allow it to coordinate its administration and improve economic conditions for the populations under its control.

The broader strategic aim of the I.C.C. to bring Puntland and the well-organized mini-state of Somaliland in the far north into an Islamic state is still far from realization and much depends on how cautiously the I.C.C. pursues that aim.

Ethiopia Under Duress

The strongest military power in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia has the most direct and intense interest in Somalia of any external actor. To the west of Somalia's long border with Ethiopia lies the latter's Ogaden region, with a predominantly ethnic Somali population of four million people. In 1977, Somalia invaded Ogaden in order to annex it and create a Greater Somali state. Ethiopia won the ensuing war at considerable cost, but since then has faced a persistent insurgency.

With the rise of the I.C.C., some elements of which are irredentist, Addis Ababa fears with good reason that the insurgency could become more effective. Addis Ababa considers preservation of sovereignty over Ogaden to be a vital interest, which is the basis for its moves into Somalia to defend the T.F.G. and curb the I.C.C.'s drive west.

Ethiopia is also involved in a simmering border dispute with Eritrea, with which it fought a brutal war in the 1990s. Since then, Addis Ababa and Asmara have massed troops on their border, and Asmara has sought to undermine Addis Ababa in the region. The ascent of the I.C.C. has provided an opportunity for Asmara to create an anti-Ethiopian alliance, and Asmara has reportedly been a conduit for and supplier of weapons to the Courts and, according to Addis Ababa, to the insurgent Ogaden National Liberation Front (O.N.L.F.).

Although it is far larger and more populous and well-endowed militarily than its neighbors in the Horn, Ethiopia is riven by strife among its many ethnic groups, religiously divided between Muslims and Christians -- each comprising approximately 45 percent of its population -- governed by an increasingly authoritarian and unpopular regime that has played divide and rule among ethnic groups, and faced with an opposition that has begun to coalesce and that it has attempted to repress. In addition to the O.N.L.F. insurgency, the government confronts a similar situation in the Oromia region, where the Oromo Liberation Front (O.L.F.) fights a persistent guerrilla war and has joined with the O.N.L.F. and other ethnic factions in the opposition Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (A.F.D.).

Supported by Washington, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is faced with too many problems to be a reliable proxy for Washington's attempt to roll back the rise of Islamism in Somalia. Ethiopia is currently in a cycle of instability, which is likely to deepen and impede Addis Ababa from undertaking a full-scale intervention into Somalia. Zenawi will, however, do whatever he can to contain the I.C.C. and tamp down the O.N.L.F.

During the first two weeks of August, Zenawi responded to an uptick in O.N.L.F. activity, fueled by the I.C.C.'s successes and possible support from the I.C.C. and Asmara, by ordering a "military sweep" in Ogaden on August 6 to suppress the insurgency. Zenawi claimed that peace talks to which both sides had agreed had broken down after discussions in the United States and Europe between local clan elders and O.N.L.F. leaders had failed to produce progress. Zenawi claimed that the "sweep" was requested by the elders.

The O.N.L.F. responded on August 7, stating that Addis Ababa's military action was nothing out of the ordinary and that Zenawi had announced it to reassure foreign hydrocarbon companies bidding on a gas contract in Ogaden that Addis Ababa was in control of the region. Indeed, the O.N.L.F. claimed that it had conducted extensive military exercises throughout the region that Ethiopian forces had been unable to prevent. On August 10, the O.N.L.F.'s leader, Admiral Mohamed Omar Osman refused to deny support from the I.C.C. and Asmara, saying that "any group that supports our cause is a friend." He blamed Addis Ababa for derailing peace talks by refusing to hold them in a neutral country and accept an independent mediator.

On August 10, Ethiopia's Ministry of Mines and Energy awarded the Malaysian oil company Petronas with a contract to develop the Calub and Hilala natural gas fields in the Ogaden. Petronas agreed to invest US$1.9 billion in the project and to build a refinery and a pipeline to Djibouti. The O.N.L.F. immediately reissued its warning to Petronas that Addis Ababa is not in effective control of Ogaden and "is not in a position to issue licenses," adding that it would not permit the company to exploit the resources and declaring that Ogaden is a "conflict zone."

The conflict spiked on August 11 when Addis Ababa reported that its troops had killed 13 O.N.L.F. insurgents as they crossed the border from Somalia and had captured their commanders. The O.N.L.F. did not deny the deaths, but claimed that none of its officers had been captured, accusing Addis Ababa of lying to reassure Petronas. On August 16, the O.N.L.F. claimed that its forces had killed 120 Ethiopian troops and wounded 141 on August 7, and had killed 16 Ethiopian forces and wounded 20 on August 12.

As tensions in Ogaden rose, Addis Ababa suffered its first serious military defection, when Brigadier General Kemal Geltu, an Oromo, and more than 150 soldiers and officers sought refuge in Eritrea. Geltu announced that he had joined the O.L.F. to fight for Oromo rights; Addis Ababa said that he was disgruntled because he had been passed over for promotion.

The instability of the Zenawi government and the pressures on it not only limit its room to maneuver in Somalia, but also throw Ogaden into play and raise the risks for Petronas, which is aggressively seeking new reserves as the ones under its control are depleted. Addis Ababa is under duress from within and without, and faces greater challenges in the wake of the I.C.C.'s ascent. It is not clear that Zenawi can afford a major military operation in Somalia, especially as Ogaden becomes a more intense "conflict zone." Addis Ababa is approaching its limits and is likely to engage in a testing game with the I.C.C.

The T.F.G. Scrapes Bottom

As the I.C.C. maintained its revolutionary momentum and Ethiopia and Puntland moved to check the Courts movement, the T.F.G. continued to collapse and entered a state of paralysis. In late July, the deep divisions in the T.F.G. opened into a severe split between factions urging a power-sharing deal with the I.C.C. and those allied to Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi that opted against peace talks and threw in their lot with Addis Ababa.

Resignations from Gedi's cabinet, which had begun in the last days of July, continued in early August, reaching 40 by August 5 and threatening not only Gedi's government but the fragile integrity of the T.F.G. itself.

The imminent collapse of the T.F.G. prompted Addis Ababa to intervene diplomatically to broker a deal between Gedi and President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who had shifted away from a confrontational stance toward the I.C.C. as the Courts advanced toward his power base in Puntland, and parliamentary speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, who had consistently favored talks with the I.C.C.

On August 5, Ethiopia's foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin, arrived in Baidoa and held discussions with Gedi, Yusuf and Adan, and was able to arrange an agreement that required Gedi to appoint a reduced cabinet of 74 members by August 14 who would have to be approved by parliament. Gedi was also charged with presenting a "plan of action" for reconciliation with the I.C.C., the success of which would be assessed by parliament in three months time, and he was subject to a vote of confidence three months later. Most importantly, Gedi agreed to attend peace talks with the I.C.C. sponsored by the Arab League (A.L.).

The deal was a compromise in which Gedi was able to remain in office but had to surrender his opposition to negotiating with the I.C.C. It soon fell apart as Gedi insisted that the new cabinet list would not be presented to parliament, since it was only a "reshuffle." Gedi's resistance was based on his calculation that any list he presented would be rejected, resulting in his removal.

An August 11 meeting between Gedi, Yusuf and Adan reportedly ended in a stalemate, and the August 14 deadline for a cabinet list was not met.

With the T.F.G. in a state of paralysis, the I.C.C. rejected immediate peace talks, saying that it would participate when Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia. On August 15, the A.L. reluctantly agreed to the I.C.C.'s request for a delay, mooting the issue that had precipitated the T.F.G.'s collapse and paralysis.

Kenya Enters the Picture as a Balancer

With the exception of Addis Ababa and Asmara, which officially back peace and power-sharing talks between the I.C.C. and T.F.G. but have actively taken sides, all the other external actors interested in Somalia -- international and regional organizations, neighboring states and Western powers -- have pinned their hopes on the talks. With the postponement of the reconciliation process, the external actors have been sidelined.

Throughout the rise of the I.C.C., the external actors had failed to move decisively and had confined themselves to statements urging "dialogue" between the I.C.C. and T.F.G. In the first two weeks of August, they fell silent, allowing the forces on the ground to shape the situation unimpeded by anything but their own limitations.

The last collective diplomatic effort came on August 2, when the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (I.G.A.D.) -- a regional grouping of Somalia and neighboring states in the Horn and East Africa -- held an emergency meeting on Somalia attended by the foreign ministers of the member states and observers from the Washington-led Contact Group of Western powers, the European Union and the A.L.

The devolution of international efforts to resolve the conflict in Somalia to I.G.A.D. further devolved responsibility for diplomacy to Kenya, which was charged with leading a delegation to Baidoa and Mogadishu to negotiate with the "disputing parties" and try to bring them to the table for reconciliation talks.

Apart from Ethiopia, Kenya, which has a northern border with Somalia, is the state with the most direct interests in Somalia. Its northeast province is populated by ethnic Somalis, and Kenya fought a war between 1963 and 1967 with Somalia, which was pursuing its irredentist vision of Greater Somalia. Kenya also hosted the talks that led to the formation of the T.F.G. and hosts 134,000 refugees from Somalia in camps in its northeast.

Nairobi, which has not faced the kind of intense insurgency that Addis Ababa confronts in Ogaden, has maintained a policy of "equidistance," cooperating with Addis Ababa in its pursuit of Oromo insurgents and attempting to maintain links with the important Somali factions. Its interest is in stability in order to stanch the continuing flow of refugees, halt the brisk arms trade across its northern border and, when possible, to check Addis Ababa's power.

Through the rise of the I.C.C., Nairobi worked through I.G.A.D. and the African Union, preferring not to jump into the picture directly. That changed when Addis Ababa mounted its incursions into Somalia and international mediation efforts collapsed. Nairobi was the only external player left that might be able to head off an armed confrontation between the I.C.C. and Addis Ababa, and a possible regional war drawing in Asmara.

Nairobi has displeased Addis Ababa by forging links with the I.C.C., refusing to back the Ethiopian incursions and rejecting the Ethiopian strategy of creating an alliance of warlords and the T.F.G. Nairobi is not so much an honest broker as a balancer, which is the most that other international actors can presently hope for.

Led by Kenya's assistant foreign minister, Moses Wetangula, the 16 member I.G.A.D. peace delegation met with the T.F.G. and I.C.C. on August 14. Wetangula extracted a public statement from Gedi endorsing talks with the I.C.C. and received a similar commitment from Ahmed to negotiate with the T.F.G. The depth of the I.C.C.'s commitment, however, is not clear, since it insisted that the talks be postponed and Ahmed said that the I.C.C. would submit its complaints against Addis Ababa to the Kenyan government, which is the present chair of I.G.A.D. On August 17, the United Nations Security Council's envoy to Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, told the Council that Ahmed remained firm in his opposition to talks as long as Ethiopian troops were in Somalia.

Two days before Wetangula's mission arrived, an unofficial Kenyan delegation of politicians and businessmen led by ethnic Somali opposition legislator Billow Kerrow met with the I.C.C., which praised Nairobi for its "non-interference" in the Somali conflict. Kerrow said after the meeting that the Somali Islamists are "moderate and peace loving people."

It appears that Nairobi is not interested in a resolution of the conflict in Somalia that would decisively work to Addis Ababa's advantage. At present, there is no effective external actor that stands above the conflict as an honest broker.

Conclusion

The first two weeks of August saw the major players in Somalia's revolutionary conflict come under duress as the main antagonists -- the I.C.C. and Addis Ababa -- drew close to armed confrontation.

By virtue of its impressive successes in administrative consolidation and territorial expansion, the I.C.C. reached the point at which further advances would likely meet with serious resistance, whether from Addis Ababa, Puntland or an alliance of the two.

In reaction to the I.C.C.'s revolutionary momentum, Addis Ababa stepped up its incursions into Somalia and prepared to engage the I.C.C. in battle.

Each antagonist faced problems if it attempted to overcome the other militarily. Were the I.C.C. to risk a fight with Addis Ababa, it would have to move forces from the areas that it had recently consolidated, leaving it vulnerable to resurgent warlord and clan militias. Were Addis Ababa to proceed aggressively, it would lack regional allies and would risk a costly conflict against a hostile population with uncertain success, an intensification of the insurgency in Ogaden and the possibility of further defections from its military. Each side faces the danger of over-extending itself if it provokes its rival into warfare.

The most likely possibility is that the stand-off will continue until one side perceives that it has gained a decisive advantage over the other. There remains, however, the chance that either side will miscalculate and precipitate an armed confrontation that could draw in Asmara and set in motion a regional war.

The heightened tensions between the I.C.C. and Addis Ababa have split apart the T.F.G., which has come under so much duress that it is paralyzed. If it is able to reform itself, the T.F.G. will be at a severe disadvantage in any future negotiations with the I.C.C., which has won a seemingly irreversible political victory over its only domestic competitor.

Cross-pressured by conflicts of interest, international and regional organizations have drawn back from the fray. Distracted by more pressing conflicts, Western powers, including Washington, which leans toward Addis Ababa, have adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward Somalia, providing the I.C.C. with even more leverage and further crippling the T.F.G. With no honest broker in sight, Nairobi has stepped in to try to balance Addis Ababa while preserving the facade of equidistance.

Local analysts believe that if war breaks out, Addis Ababa will try to make a quick and heavy strike into Somalia's central regions and that the I.C.C. will respond with intense guerrilla warfare. The odds favor the I.C.C., but such a struggle would be costly and bloody, and would deepen Somalia's already severe humanitarian crisis.

In mid-August, the I.C.C. is still the protagonist. Its revolutionary momentum is unabated, but -- even more than before -- it needs to play its hand judiciously.

Report Drafted By:
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein

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