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Where does Somalia's Al Shabab suicide attack leave the government?

Tuesday's suicide attack by Somalia's Al Shabab, which killed more than 30 people, including six members of parliament, leaves the transitional government's tenuous hold on power even weaker.

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“What do we have?” asks a Somali academic in Nairobi, who requested anonymity. “We have a very incapable government, a very weak government with no coherent policy on security, on development, on the way forward. Now, in the international community and in the diaspora, everyone seems to be focused on: ‘What next? What will the next government be like?' ”

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A big setback at a bad time

On the surface, the attack on the Muna Hotel in Mogadishu would appear to be just one of many violent attacks in the Somali capital, remarkable only because many of the victims were members of parliament. A statement by the Somali Ministry of Interior blamed the Islamist militant group, Al Shabab (the Youth) for the attack, in which a pair of gunmen, dressed in army fatigues, opened fire into the hotel lobby, killing 31, six of the victims being parliamentarians.

Yet the attack occurred at a time when the Somali government has been steadily receiving reinforcements, Somali soldiers trained by various countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, and the European Union at a training camp in Uganda. The reinforcements were supposed to provide the government with the sufficient forces to launch “a grand offensive” against Al Shabab and its allies, Hizbul Islam and to give the government enough breathing room to start providing services to the Somali people and to demonstrate its ability to govern.

Six months on, the promised offensive has never materialized. Reports say that the newly trained soldiers have begun to defect to Al Shabab, more for economic reasons than ideological ones. The Somali government has received international donor money for Army salaries, but it has no proper system in place to pay soldiers.

Who's side are government forces really on?

For allies of the Somali government, including the moderate Islamist militia known as Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa, the Somali government is hard to support.

“We know that 50 percent of the government are Wahabbists,” says Mahamud Abdi Elmi, an Ahlu Sunna spokesman in Nairobi, referring to the hard-line Wahabbi sect of Islam based in Saudi Arabia, of which both the Saudi royal family and Osama bin Laden are adherents. “So we refuse to mix our forces with their forces because we can’t compromise our people.”

“These Wahabbists are the same people who are providing security for the members of parliament, so that is the reason for these attacks,” adds Mr. Elmi. “We support the government, because we don’t want anarchy. But this is why we can’t mix our people with theirs. We know who they are.”

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