We're baaaaack: Islamists take over in Somalia

By , Africa editor

Um, that was fast.

Within 24 hours of Ethiopian troops' withdrawal from bases in the rubble-strewn streets of Mogadishu, Somalia's Islamists have taken over most of the city.

Forces loyal to the weak, United Nations-backed transitional government didn't even put up a fight, it appears, as the BBC reports, that Islamists now control four of the six bases left behind by the Ethiopians.

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The US-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia at the end of 2006 to oust the Islamists who had controlled the country for six months, imposing strict sharia law.

The good news about a return to Islamist rule, for Somalis, is that under the Islamists' brief rule in 2006, the constant fighting, armed robbery, and piracy that have plagued the war-ravaged country all nose dived.

The Monitor mentioned this in an in-depth briefing page about what to expect in Somalia in 2009.

"People see the Islamists as bringing law and order, security, and stopping the fleecing of people through roadblocks and unnecessary taxation," says Iqbal Jhazbhay, a Somali expert at the University of South Africa in Tshwane, as Pretoria is now called.

The bad news is that the Islamists have been suspected by the US of harboring Al Qaeda-linked terrorists.

The question now is whether the extremist Al Shabab faction or more moderate Islamist emerge victorious in the new battles to fill Somalia's power vacuum.

Who wins that struggle may help determine the level of outside intervention in coming months.

The Islamists' resurgence, combined with a recent spike in piracy off Somalia's coast – smack in the middle of key international shipping routes – will make the failed state one to keep a close eye on in 2009.

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