Somali government encircled by hardline Islamists
After five days of assault by better-armed Al Shabab militiamen, pro-government fighters have apparently begun to retreat.
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Hours after the press conference, the presidential palace itself was shelled.Skip to next paragraph
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Why hardliners reject the current government
Hardline Islamists say they reject the Sharif government, despite the fact that Sharif won overwhelming support from Somali clans and traditional leaders during a UN-sponsored election held in Djibouti on Jan. 31.
Sharif's credentials as a former Islamist commander during the Islamist government of 2006 were thought to have given him the best chance of buying Somalia enough time to restore peace, open up humanitarian corridors for aid delivery, and allow for peaceful elections at a later time. Sharif was applauded both for reaching out to fellow Islamists – and having parliament make Islamic law the basis for Somalia's legal system – as well as to Western donor nations eager to see Somalia's nearly 19 years of anarchy brought to an end.
Sharif even welcomed back Aweys, the former head of the UIC, hoping the two could resolve their differences by negotiation. That appears to have failed.
Donor nations wary of getting involved
International assistance for the Sharif government is limited, in part by design. Based on the disastrous US-led UN peacekeeping mission of the early 1990s – culminating in the frenzied street fighting depicted in the book "Black Hawk Down" – donor nations passed the most recent Somali peacekeeping mission on to the African Union in 2006. Yet even the African-led peacekeeping mission has been divisive and potentially destabilizing, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon argued last month.
"I don't think that if pushed, AMISOM will go the extra mile to protect Sharif," says Rashid Abdi, of Crisis Group.
Sharif's best hope is an internal solution, most experts agree, by winning over enough Islamist militias to his side, including the popular but poorly armed traditional Islamist group Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama'a.
In Nairobi, Ahlu Sunna's political spokesman, Khaliph Mahamud Abdi, says his group has been talking with the Sharif government but will only join Sharif's forces if he promises to stop trying to cooperate with all foreign Islamic ideologies, especially the hardline Saudi-influenced ideology of Al Shabab, but instead to eliminate them.
Ahlu Sunna claims to control a broad swath of territory north of Mogadishu, including much of the Galcayo and Gedo regions. But while he says, "We have the people and we have the truth," he warns darkly, "They (Al Shabab) have the money and the organization."
"We are supposed to meet Sharif, and if he is willing to join us we will give him all the land we control and give him our forces, too," says Mr. Abdi, the Ahlu Sunna spokesman.