Somalis Split as Fighting Halts and Hint of Insurgency Looms

New York Times
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Dec. 29 — Anti-Ethiopia riots erupted in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, on Friday, while masked gunmen emerged for the first time on the streets, a day after Ethiopian-backed troops captured the city from Islamist forces.
Hundreds of Somalis flooded into bullet-pocked boulevards to hurl rocks at the Ethiopian soldiers, set tires on fire and shout anti-Ethiopian slogans.
“Get out of our country!” they yelled. “We hate you, Ethiopians!”
In northern Mogadishu, residents said men with scarves over their faces and assault rifles in their hands lurked on the street corners. Mogadishu has plenty of gunmen, of every age and every clan, but gunmen hiding their identity is something new and may be a sign of a developing insurgency.
“We’re going to turn this place into another Iraq,” said Abdullahi Hashi, a construction worker who said he was part of a new underground movement to fight the Ethiopians.
Many analysts have said that if the Ethiopian troops protecting the internationally recognized transitional government of Somalia linger in the country too long and their intervention turns into a full-scale occupation, it will uncork a long and nasty guerilla war.
At the same time, it seems that many Somalis appreciate the presence of the Ethiopians for helping to bring some stability. Just a few hours after the protests, thousands of residents came out to warmly greet Ali Mohammed Gedi, the prime minister of the transitional government and one of the leaders who called in the Ethiopian muscle.
It is unclear what is going to happen in Mogadishu. Many people are still absorbing the dramatic power shift that occurred this week, when the Islamists who once ruled much of the country quickly collapsed under Ethiopia’s overwhelming force, enabling the transitional government, which had been roundly dismissed as weak, to suddenly take control.
Islamist leaders said Friday that they were not simply giving up. While most of their troops have abandoned the cause — shedding their uniforms and shaving their beards — the Islamist leadership said it was regrouping in Kismayo, a city along Somalia’s southern coast. Not far from Kismayo is a lightly populated, heavily forested area that Western intelligence officers said has served as a terrorist hide-out for many years.
“We will not leave Somalia,” Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a top Islamist leader, told The Associated Press on Friday. “We will not run away from our enemies. We will never depart from Somalia. We will stay in our homeland.”
The Islamists uttered similar vows to fight to the death for Mogadishu, their former stronghold. But when thousands of Ethiopian fighters and troops from the transitional government reached the city’s outskirts on Wednesday, the Islamists fled and the city fell the next morning without a shot.
Ethiopian officials have justified the intervention in Somalia by saying that the Islamists were extremists who had their eyes on part of Ethiopia, and said their troops would remain on Somali soil until that threat is wiped out. The Ethiopian and transitional government troops seem to be focused on Mogadishu, but many Somalis suspect that once that city is stabilized, the bulk of the Ethiopian forces will shift to Kismayo. On Friday, Kismayo residents said Ethiopian fighter jets were circling the skies above town.
Mr. Gedi, meanwhile, is wasting little time getting to work. He announced Friday that the transitional government, one of the most promising efforts at a central government since 1991, when Somalia descended into anarchy, was imposing martial law for the next three months. He asked Mogadishu’s various clan militias to turn in their weapons or face the consequences.
“This country has been through a lot of anarchy,” Mr. Gedi said, “so to re-establish order we will have to have an iron hand.”
Last year, when Mr. Gedi set foot in the capital, he was nearly assassinated. On Friday, he was surrounded by armored trucks and Ethiopian infantrymen. Though officials in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, have said their troops should not enter downtown Mogadishu, many are camped in the former American Embassy, a decrepit building that was closed more than 15 years ago after American soldiers suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of warlords.

Mohammed Ibrahim and Yuusuf Maxamuud contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.

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