Islamists, New Somali President Sign Peace Deal

March 5, 2009

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In late January, Ethiopia withdrew its last soldiers from Somalia after more than two years of bloody occupation and insurgency. Their departure immediately catalyzed a dramatic chain of events. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that had been backed by Ethiopia, the U.S. and the U.N. fled to Djibouti and, in apparent desperation, signed a peace deal with an alliance of moderate Islamists. As part of the deal, the TFG welcomed hundreds of alliance representatives into a newly-expanded parliament.

The African Union declared the peace deal a "paradigm shift that gives Somalis a chance for lasting peace and reconciliation."

The enlarged parliament wasted no time electing a new president to fill the position left vacant by ailing former warlord Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed when he stepped down in December. The new president, Shariff Sheik Ahmed, is a former member of the Islamic Courts Union, the group whose rise had provoked the Ethiopian invasion in late 2006.

Sheikh Ahmed promptly flew to Mogadishu with his ministers and opened negotiations with insurgent groups. "The main objective of the day-to-day clashes in the capital was the presence of the Ethiopian troops in the country, and once they have completely pulled out I thought no more blood will be shed," Sheikh Ahmed said.

Hizbul Islam, one of several armed organizations that had bloodily resisted the Ethiopian occupation, agreed with Sheikh Ahmed’s assessment. Last week in Mogadishu, Hizbul Islam signed a peace agreement with the Transitional Federal Government. In exchange, Sheikh Ahmed promised to enforce Shariah law. But it’s unclear whether Sheikh Ahmed will be successful in forging a similar compromise with the larger, more aggressive al-Shabab armed group, which already enforces a harsh version of Shariah in many parts of Somalia, even forbidding men and women to ride together in cars.

Read the rest at World Politics Review.

(Photo: via Biyokulule)