No peace in Somalia

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The US-backed invasion of Somalia by Ethiopian forces has predictably turned into a disaster for the Somali people.

It has been a year now since the United Islamic Courts were overthrown after being in power for six months. During that time much of the violence and brutality of the contending local elites had been brought to a halt.

Last December's invasion, supported by US special forces, aircraft and ships, left the Ethiopian troops in charge of the country. But they have been unable to impose a government with even a shred of democratic legitimacy, and along with the transitional federal government have faced mounting opposition.

Somalia is now facing its worst humanitarian crisis for years.

This latest, and not much talked about, front of the "war on terror" has caused the internal displacement of some 450,000 people from the capital Mogadishu this year - an even more intense refugee crisis than in Darfur for the same period.

Ethiopia sent more troops to Mogadishu at the end of October, resulting in as many as 114,000 people fleeing the city in the two following weeks.

Scores of people have been killed by the Ethiopian army. On 8 and 9 November alone, some 51 Somali civilians were killed. A witness explained: "The Ethiopians went up on the roofs of high buildings and started shooting civilians by sight." The army also used tanks to quell resistance to the invasion, destroying houses and killing their occupants.

The imposed Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf has told residents in Mogadishu, to fight alongside government forces or face the consequences. "When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers," he said.

Protests against the government and the Ethiopian army have been taking place in Mogadishu with hundreds of residents burning tyres and marching on the streets.

The US's reluctance to use its own troops to do the dirty work is partly due to the memories of its failed Restore Hope mission of 1992-93 which ended when two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down and bodies of dead US soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Those memories came back when the bodies of at least three Ethiopian soldiers endured the same fate last month.

It is clear that Somalis' welfare was never an objective for the White House. Somalia's strategic importance - overlooking the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf - has meant that the US, ever since the Cold War, has always been looking for a pliable government.

When the Iranian Revolution took place in 1979, the Reagan administration rushed to move troops and weapons to the port of Berbera in north west Somalia (now Somaliland) as well as sending over $40 million in military aid to Siad Barre's government despite his highly repressive regime.

George Bush's plans to expand the US's military presence in Africa to counter the growing influence of China in controlling trade and natural resources come at an enormous cost to the Somali people. According to the UN 1.8 million are in need of help - because of an emergency that the US and its allies have created.