23 December 2010

Somalia: Harakat Al-Shabaab 'Gobbles Up' Hizbul Isam


On December20, Hizbul Islam (H.I.) folded its tent and migrated under the encampment of Harakat al-Sbababb Mujahiden (H.S.M.), leaving H.S.M. with a monopoly over armed opposition to Somalia's Western-backed Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) supported by the African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM.

The dissolution of H.I. as an independent organization and its absorption into H.S.M. was preceded by H.I.'s retreat to its last stronghold on the outskirts of Mogadishu, the Afgoe distrinct, having been militarily defeated in the strategic town of Burhakabe on the road from Mogadishu to Baidoa, and in its heartland, the Lower Shabelle region, apart from the Mogadishu suburbs.

As H.S.M. advanced on the Afgoe district in mid-December, H.I.'s leadership was faced with the decision of whether to cave into H.S.M. or make a last stand. After conferring among themselves, they reached the decision to "resist" and to attempt to defend the suburbs of Afgoe and Elasha Biyaha. H.I. had reportedly constructed defenses on the edge of Afgoe. Its leader, Sh. Hassan Dahir Aweys, proclaimed: "We will die for Afgoe or win from Shabaab."

On December 16, local media reported that both sides were reinforcing their fighters, especially H.S.M. The internally displaced people in the Afgoe corridor were frightened and the T.F.G.'s president, Sh. Sharif Sh. Ahmad, called for H.I. and H.S.M. to end their conflict and spare the I.D.P.s. The situation was suspended in tension.

As the fate of H.I. hung in the balance, the group's leadership conferred again. On December 18, the Luuq administration controlled by H.I. in the Gedo region joined H.S.M.; district chairman, Sh. Farhan Abdi added that his administration had acted to avoid a "forcible" H.S.M. takeover. On December 19, after protracted debates, H.I.'s leadership decided to reverse its position and enter H.S.M. under the latter's name. Press TV quoted Aweys as explaining: "The purpose of amalgamating our group is to strengthen our military struggle against foreign invaders."

As Somali commentator Omar Abdirahman Mohamed told A.P., H.S.M. had "gobbled up" H.I. It remains to be seen whether H. I. will be given any leadership positions in H.S.M. Signs that a power-sharing arrangement had been negotiated were reported by AllPuntland on December 21; Aweys had been promised a senior position in H.S.M. before the merger /absorption, and senior commanders Sh. Hasan Mahdi and Ma-alin Hashi would also occupy important positions. H.I., nonetheless, has limited bargaining power in light of its military losses.

On December 22, Shabelle Media reported that senior H.I. officials, including Mahdi and Abdiquadir Commandos, had met with a top H.S.M. delegation led by Sh. Muktar Robow to finalize the surrender of H.I.'s armaments to H.S.M. and the retraining of its forces in H.S.M. procedures.

Also on November 22, Sh. Yusuf Indha'ade, who had broken with H.I. and formed an independent group that was first linked with the T.F.G., but now acts on its own, because Indha'ade claims that the T.F.G. did not implement an agreement with his faction and excluded it from the government, appealed for H.I. leaders and troops to join his faction in opposition to H.S.M.

Balance of Power

Response by political actors and commentators to H.S.M.'s ascension to a monopoly over armed opposition in south-central Somalia has concentrated appropriately and intelligibly on whether it changes the balance of power in the country's civil war. For some actors and commentators, H.S.M. has been strengthened by its defeat and absorption of H.I.; for others, the balance of power has not changed and might offer an advantage to the T.F.G.

Seen from the viewpoint of formal-realist political science, all other things being equal, H.S.M.'s monopoly position advantages it. As analyst Ali Sh. Abdi told Bloomberg News, the merger of H.I. with H.S.M. works to strengthen groups fighting against the T.F.G. and AMISOM. Ahmed Diriye Ali, spokesman for the conciliatory wing of the Hawiye traditional elders, told Shabelle Media that the merger "does away with wrangling and in-fighting ... it is now the government versus Al-Shabaab." H.I.'s head of operations, Sh. Mohamed Osman Aurs, who became the spokesman for the group on its absorption, explained, a "united leadership" will not have to divert efforts away from fighting the T.F.G. and AMISOM, and into conflict among the components of the opposition that degrades the capacity of both of them.

Actors and commentators who say that the balance of power has not changed argue mainly that H.S.M's military campaign had already weakened H.I. to the point of irrelevance and, in any case, H.I. and H.S.M. had been cooperating on the ground against the T.F.G. and AMISOM. The latter's spokesman, Maj. Barigye Ba-Hoku, for example, told the B.B.C. that the Arican mission had often been attacked by both groups at the same time and, therefore, their merger makes no difference. Members of the Transitional Federal Parliament (T.F.P.) told Shabelle Media that the institution was unaffected by the absorption and that the T.F.G. was imminently preparing a major offensive to eliminate H.S.M. Omar Abdirahman Mohamed told A.P. that the merger was not a "sea change," since the two groups were already enemies of the T.F.G. Analyst Rashid Abdi of the International Crisis Group characterized the merger as a tactical one that would probably break up quickly, also noting H.I.'s weakened condition from military losses and defenctions.

Allowing that the merger was predominantly a ratification of a condition established on the ground, it remains that H.S.M. gains by having monopolized armed opposition. It is a question of whether H.S.M. can exploit the gain, and that depends on H.S.M.'s own unity, which is in doubt. Now that H.S.M. has the field to itself, it faces the challenge of posing the only alternative to the T.F.G. If it achieves organizational and programmatic unity, H.S.M. enhances its position; if it is riven by organizational and programmatic division, H.S.M.'s position declines.

It is widely accepted by actors and commentators that there are serious differences in H.S.M. Most recently, on December18, Garoweonline reported on a speech by H.S.M. senior commander Fuad Shongole, in which he criticized the group's leader, Sh. Ahmed Abdi Godane, for the campaign against H.I. in Burhakaba, which Shongole said was not "jihad" since it involved Muslims killing other Muslims and "bragging about it." Shongole's remarks were only the latest manifestations of a split within H.S.M. that pits Godane's faction that represents transnational revolutionary purism against Sh. Muktar Robow's faction, of which Shongle is a member, that represents a tendency towards nationalist revolutionary Islam. It is not clear that the two factions can be reconciled, especially in light of clan divisions among the leaders and their constituencies, and recriminations over the failure of H.S.M.'s 2010 Ramadan offensive against the T.F.G. and AMISOM in Mogadishu that resulted in casualties incurred by H.S.M. forces affiliated with Robow.

Indeed, it is possible that H.I. is playing a role in the power struggle within H.S.M. Arus hinted at that when he said that H.I. intended to advise the "hardline elements" of H.S.M. "from within;" that is, taking the side of Robow's faction against Godane's.

The foregoing is not to say that H.S.M. will fall apart, only that it is being tested and that any advantage that it has gained by monopolizing armed opposition can be nullified by its own internal divisions, which will possibly be exacerbated by the addition of H.I. on one side of the internal balance.

If H.S.M. is able to heal its ideological-political conflict to the degree that it can act effectively against its opponents, it is likely that it will radicalize the Islamists' conflict with the T.F.G. and AMISOM. Omar Abdirahman Mohamed noted to A.P. that H.S.M.'s monopoly over armed opposition would make it more difficult for reconciliation to make headway now that H.I., which might have bargained with the T.F.G., is out of the picture. Abdirahim Isse Adow, director of the T.F.G.'s Radio Mogadishu, sees the sam consequence, but believes, as he told A.P., that it improves the T.F.G.'s position, since the T.F.G. can now "present itself as the only option in winning the hearts and minds" of the population.

Bottom Line

Two consequences that are relevant to the balance of power follow from the merger/absorptionof H.I. into H.S.M.

First, the merger is an advantage for H.S.M. in its conflicts with its T.F.G.-AMISOM opponents, if it is able to overcome disputes within its ranks and incorporate H.I. successfully, either through capitulation or power -sharing. Having achieved a monopoly on armed opposition, H.S.M. has the opportunity to focus its resources on encountering its adversaries. In this analyst's estimation, H.S.M.'s achievement of monopoly over armed opposition is not a "sea change," but is a marginal gain that can become greater if H.S.M. is unified enough to exploit the advantage.

The second and more significant consequence, for the configuration of conflicts in Somalia, of the merger/absorption is the sharpening and polarization of the struggle between H.S.M. and its Western-backed opponents, the T.F.G. and AMISOM. As the most radical element in Somali political Islamism - now with a monopoly - H.S.M. is purist and, as a result, reluctant to compromise. Should H.S.M. go in the hardline direction, a military confrontation between it and its opponents increases in likelihood. Should H.S.M. be willing to share power under a formula that would make Somalia an Islamic state, but not an emirate awaiting the Caliphate, it would be possible to avert a full-scale military conflict abetted by Western powers fearful of a radical Islamist regime allied to al-Qaeda taking root in Somalia. The West is not ready to entertain such a scenario.

From the viewpoint of political (balance-of-power) analysis, the deepest structure emerging from the absorption/merger is H.S.M.'s monopoly over armed opposition to its international and domestic adversaries, which means monopoly over revolutionary political Islam in Somalia - the legacy of the 2006 Islamic Courts revolution. H.S.M is now in the position of representing the Courts Revolution.

The major question/challenge posed to H.S.M. is whether it will broaden itself by adding admixtures of nationalism and diplomacy (strategic compromise) to its political formula, or whether it will veer into purism.

The situation of H.S.M. resembles alternatives that were posed in Soviet Communism. The broad Russian Revolution resolved itself into the victory of its hardline Bolshevk faction, which contained a division between an internationalist revolutionary wing (Trotskyism) and a nationalist revolutionary wing (Stalinism). The post-revolutionary Soviet Union's circumstances are not those of post-Courts Somalia; the latter cannot be employed to predict the former. The two cases are the same in revealing the recurrent tensions of modern revolutionary movements.

Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University in Chicago.

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