- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

When forces of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a radical Muslim militia, seized the Somali capital city of Mogadishu last month, the terrible situation in that African country became even worse. Anarchic for a decade and a half, Somalia became a haven for al Qaeda terrorists well before the United States ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, both the work of Osama bin Laden, made use of networks in Somalia. The terrorists who bombed a Kenyan resort and tried to shoot down an Israeli passenger plane in 2002 also operated from the strategically located country.

For more than two years, the CIA had run a program that used secular warlords to pursue terrorists and combat the Islamist forces in the country. The program ended last month, when those warlords were overrun by the Islamist militias of the ICU. As the group strengthens its control over the southern part of the country, the chances that power can be wrested from it are rapidly declining.

The ICU is believed to receive weapons flown in on cargo planes from neighboring Eritrea. The ability of the CIA to operate effectively within the country has been hamstrung, in no small part by a front-page story in the New York Times that revealed the covert CIA program to back the warlords.

The State Department — the source of the leaks that led to news coverage that undermined the covert CIA program — has been publicly advocating a dialogue between the ICU and the U.N.-backed government in Baidoa. Given that the transitional government never had sufficient power to operate outside of Baidoa ( much less in Mogadishu) and was forced to appeal to Ethiopia for military assistance against the Islamist forces, it was probably unrealistic to expect it to be able to hold on to power for very long. If the only opposition to the ICU is a weak transitional government (which now seems to have all but collapsed) Somalia may as well be written off as an Islamist-controlled state.

Some observers, including former U.S. senior diplomats, have suggested that Washington work with the “moderate” elements within the ICU to keep the extremist elements out of power. But the rise of a radical cleric, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys (who is on the U.S. terrorist watch list), to the leadership of the ICU casts serious doubt on the feasibility of that plan.

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