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The Road to Baghdad and Mogadishu

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Message Michael Riggs
Consider the parallels. A country with a weak government is partially taken over by a loosely organized Islamic group intent upon imposing Sharia. Another government, one with its own domestic legitimacy issues, sees a growing terrorist threat developing. It launches an invasion, and resistance melts away, only to come back later, this time armed and definitely supported by al-Quaeda.

This scenario is all too familiar, and sounds as if George W. Bush might have scripted it himself. But it also describes Ethiopia's recent invasion of Somalia.

Meles Zenawi's government came to power in a series of hotly contested elections that many observers thought were of questionable legitimacy. The Islamic Courts Union, during roughly the same period, consolidated power over parts of Somalia and imposed Sharia on various regions of the country, which was divided betweent the Courts and the officially recognized governments. At the invitation of the Somali government, Ethiopia, the Horn's regional military power, launched an invasion just before Christmas.

Early victories were easy for the Ethiopians, who over the past several years have received millions of dollars in American military aid. Now, the Islamic Courts fighters are cornered in one area of the country, and they have pledged, with al-Quaeda's newly promised assistance, to continue an insurgency in Ethiopia and to bring the war to Addis Abbaba and other Ethiopian cities. The U.S. military has inflamed opinion in the region and hardened resistance by bringing the fleet to the Horn, ostensibly in an effort to make sure no terrorists escape.

The parallels between the American project in Iraq and the Ethiopian one in Mogadishu extend even to the premature declaration of victory. Zenawi hoped to take the Somali capital almost without firing a shot, a sentiment certainly prevalent among the Pentagon war planners as American troops approached the Iraqi capital. Bush found, to his immense surprise, that the populations of conquered countries proved fickle, and the county itself was easy to take but not so easy to hold. When he declared his "mission accomplished", he more accurately should have said "occupation begun".

We may say the same of Zenawi. Now Ethiopia faces a true dilemma- the withdrawal of forces will cause a sure resurgence of the Islamic Courts and a return to what is , for Ethiopia, an unacceptable state of affairs. If the Ethiopian army remains, however, increasing numbers of Somalians will turn against what many of them already regard as an occupying imperial power, pursuing its own ends rather than working for local and regional stability.

On their way to Mogadishu, the Ethiopians have taken another road, a disastrous detour that America knows too well- the road to Baghdad and its escalations, death, and policy dilemmas.
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I am a freelance writer in Seattle.
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