Even as former prime ministers and ministers met yesterday today with senior Somali intellectuals and activists to plan regaining control of the country from the invading Ethiopian army, the Islamic Courts Union's former foreign secretary Ibrahim Addou indicated in an interview that the Courts were no longer seeking to put themselves back into power. This dramatic step could potentially offer a way out of a horrendous and brutal conflict which Pope Pius was compelled to highlight in his Easter message.
"The leadership of the Islamic Courts Union is intact, and a number of them are in Somalia battling Ethiopian occupation forces," said Prof. Addou, who was also the Courts' Chief Negotiator. "But our goal is not to reconstitute ourselves as a government. Somalia is under occupation and needs a broad-based movement in which all contending forces committed to regaining our sovereignty should work together." Prof. Addou also reacted with diplomatic caution in turning down a proposal made yesterday by US Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Fraser during her visit to Baidoa, Somalia, that a permanent ceasefire be established "as quickly as possible" through political dialogue. "We welcome all calls for an all-inclusive dialogue, which was, and continues to be, the Courts' approach," he said.
"But that dialogue can be held neither under current conditions, nor in Somalia," Addou continued. "Any such dialogue will need to be held outside Somalia, where all participants can negotiate without fear or intimidation. The dialogue would also need to be conducted under the auspices of a neutral body, or a group of impartial nations, outside Somalia. And it could only take place if it was preceded by a clear and fixed timetable of withdrawal of Ethiopian forces."
This articulation of the Islamic Courts' position provides a potential way out from the deepening Somali crisis which the Transitional Federal Government, put in power by an invading Ethiopian army and the United States, has been unable to manage even at the most rudimentary level.
Ethiopian officials have therefore been forced to hold direct, face-to-face talks with Somali elders who are known to be Islamic Courts sympathisers. Earlier doubts about President Abdullahi Yusuf's ability to overcome a life-long clannish orientation to reach out to opponents have been cemented by his recent aggressive actions at a time when even the US appreciates that the only solution to the crisis lies in an urgently-formulated politically- and clan-inclusive framework.
At a meeting last month in Addis Ababa of high-level ambassadors and officials of governments and the African Union, President Abdullahi's ambassador to Ethiopia assured participants that the TFG recognized the need to reach out and win the commitment of all the major clans to a negotiated solution.
Less than a week later, Ethiopian and Somali Government troops stormed a neighborhood of Mogadishu's dominant Hawiye clan that supported the ousted Islamic Courts. The brutality of that attack on a civilian neighborhood by helicopter gun ships and tanks resulted in enormous civilian casualties.
The subsequent public European expression of concern that war crimes might have been committed in the massive assault might reflect the resurfacing of earlier EU reservations about this war, against which the organization's warned last fall but about which it has been silent since. New behind the scene efforts might be underway to influence American thinking and find a speedy, negotiated solution to the crisis, which if unresolved could turn the already turbulent and primarily Muslim Horn of Africa into an even bigger powder-keg of Muslim-western confrontation.
The Addou interview took place at the University of Leicester, where a three-day Somali diaspora conference succeeded in attracting some of Somalia's best known figures from the earlier 2000-2004 government along with the many parliamentarians who resigned from the Transitional Federal Parliament which elected President Abdullahi in 2004.
Prof. Addou of the Islamic Courts also held out the hope that despite "the immense harm and suffering to Somalis" caused by the TFG, its members would not be automatically excluded. "All decisions will be taken on a case by case basis, the goal being national inclusiveness."
Mr. Addou acknowledged the Islamic Courts had made some mistakes when in power last year, "but they were minor." More troubling, he said, were the actions of some hot-headed ICU members not approved by the leadership. Some cinemas were closed, property was burned and football matches disrupted. The banning of chat should have been a gradual, carefully organised process accompanied by education about its impact. "We were caught by surprise by the speed of our own ascent and did not have the mechanisms in place to prevent such mishaps," he said.
On the ICU's link with terrorism, Prof Addou said that not a single terrorist act had occurred under their rule, and that ICU was completely opposed to terror. He pointed also to the Leicester meeting's tribute to the peace and security brought to Somalia last year by the ICU.