President Yusuf of Somalia sounds a great deal like George W. Bush in the days after 9/11, while the present Bush administration seems fixated on repeating the mistakes of “Peace in Our Time” in Somalia (and elsewhere). “Somalia leader: No role for Islamists,” by Shashank Bengali for McClatchy News Service:
NAIROBI, Kenya – In a rebuff to the United States, Somalia’s interim president, Abdullahi Yusuf, on Monday rejected U.S. requests to bring moderate Islamists into his weak transitional government.
Negotiations with Islamists ”will not happen,” he told Al Jazeera television before flying to Mogadishu, Somalia’s lawless seaside capital. “We will crack down on the terrorists in any place around the nation.”
Yusuf had indicated the opposite position in meetings in the Kenyan capital over the weekend with assistant U.S. Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, U.S. officials said.
There was no immediate reaction from U.S. officials, but Yusuf’s remarks underscored the difficulties that Western governments face as they try to shore up Somalia’s fragile regime after Ethiopian troops ousted Somalia’s popular Islamist rulers last month.
Frazer, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, had said late Sunday in Nairobi that Yusuf’s government, which was formed by an international conference in 2004 and has never controlled Mogadishu, needed to bring moderate Islamists into the regime.
”I support reaching out to the . . . Islamic Courts,” Frazer said. “We see a role in the future of Somalia for all who renounce violence and extremism.”
The message signaled a more conciliatory U.S. stance on the Islamic Courts Movement, which had seized Mogadishu in June from U.S.-backed warlords. Initially U.S. officials based in Kenya had some contact with moderates within the movement, including
Sheik Sherif Ahmed, a geography teacher who emerged as their leader.
But Ahmed soon was edged out by hard-liners, led by suspected al Qaeda operative Hassan Dahir Aweys, who laid claims to territory in neighboring countries and called for jihad against Ethiopia. Frazer made a series of statements starting in November claiming that al Qaeda terrorists had overrun the courts movement.
U.S. officials think that the militants are sheltering three terrorists who masterminded the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Bush administration is widely thought to have given neighboring, Christian-led Ethiopia the green
light to expel the Islamists.
The whereabouts of Sherif, Aweys and other top Islamist leaders remained uncertain Monday as Ethiopian and Kenyan troops continued to pursue remnants of the fleeing Islamist militias in a heavily wooded area of southern Somalia, near the border with
Analysts who had been critical of U.S. policy in Somalia said the Bush administration might be focusing on achieving political stability there after years of being preoccupied with preventing al Qaeda cells from taking root.
”If the U.S. is indeed doing more than making a few public statements in support of dialogue with moderates, then it does represent a shift in the public face of its policy,” said John Prendergast, senior advisor to the International Crisis Group, a
research center on global conflict.
First, define “moderate.” But expect that many more in the Islamic Courts movement will now claim to be “moderate” than when they were in power in much of the country. Pin them down on their opinions on women’s rights, Sharia versus secular law, religious pluralism, and the doctrines of jihad — no equivocation allowed. Count how many “moderates” you have left.