- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2009

MOGADISHU, Somalia | Islamic insurgents appeared to be scrambling for power Saturday, taking over several police stations in the capital as Ethiopian troops who have been propping up the government began to pull out, witnesses said.

Many fear the Ethiopian pullout — and last month’s resignation of Somalia’s president — will cause Islamic militant groups to fight among themselves for power, deepening the chaos in this beleaguered Horn of Africa nation.

“We have to show commitment to do our part in security; we want to help people feel secure,” Abdirahim Issa Adow, a spokesman for one wing of the insurgency, told the Associated Press after deploying fighters to three of Mogadishu’s 14 police stations.

His Union of Islamic Courts is not allied to the most powerful insurgent group, al Shabab, which has taken over most of Somalia.

The United States accuses al Shabab of harboring the al Qaeda-linked terrorists who blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Many of the insurgency’s senior figures are Islamic radicals; some are on the State Department’s list of wanted terrorists.

Ethiopia has been propping up Somalia’s weak government for two years, but vowed to leave by the end of 2008. Officials have since declined to give an exact date amid concerns of creating a power vacuum, so the thousands of Ethiopian troops are being pulled out in stages.

The government controls only Baidoa, the seat of parliament, and pockets of the capital, Mogadishu. There is no effective military or police force. Some police bases are occupied by government forces and others are vacant. The three taken over Saturday were vacated months ago.

Also Saturday, witnesses about 230 miles north of Mogadishu said Islamic groups were fighting each other, killing at least six people.

The Somali government, with the tacit approval of the United States, called in the Ethiopians in 2006 to support the U.N.-backed government and rout Islamic militants who had taken over most of the country.

Initially, the Ethiopians’ superior firepower worked - the Islamists were driven from power. But they quickly regrouped and launched an insurgency that continues today.

Abdullahi Yusuf resigned as president in December, saying he had lost control of the country to the insurgents.

Many Somalis have seen the Ethiopians as occupiers, and the insurgents have used their presence as a rallying cry to gain recruits - even as the militants’ strict form of Islam terrified people into submission.

For two decades, Somalia has been beset by anarchy, violence and an insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing from mortar shells, automatic weapons and grenades.

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