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Vol. 72/No. 51      December 29, 2008

UN okays U.S. military operations in Somalia
(front page)
The U.S. government has secured a resolution from the United Nations Security Council granting authority for military operations on Somali territory and in its airspace allegedly to go after pirates.

The move came as Islamist forces seized the Somali city of Merka, a major port 60 miles from the capital Mogadishu, threatening the imperialist-backed government there. The Islamist group Shabab, a bourgeois force that is backed by clan leaders in southern Somalia, took Merka without any struggle December 10.

United Nations Resolution 1851 authorizes several imperialist powers already patrolling the waters around the Horn of Africa to “take all necessary measures that are appropriate in Somalia” to suppress “acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea.” The resolution was passed unanimously.

The conflict between Islamist militias and the government in Mogadishu and the recent rise in piracy off Somalia’s coast underscore the deep political chaos that has marked the country for the past two decades and subjected the toilers there to nearly two decades of civil war.

After U.S.-backed dictator Siad Barre was overthrown in a 1991 coup, central authority in Somalia collapsed. Imperialist-fostered divisions based on clan rivalries have left the capitalist class fragmented among six major clans, each vying for political influence.

Immense economic underdevelopment from a legacy of imperialist domination is a major factor in the weakness of the capitalist-landlord class there and its inability to maintain any kind of political stability. Somalia’s economy remains largely based on nomadic cattle raising and trading in the ports. There is a very small working class.

Washington has attempted to stabilize the region by military force, including a 1993-94 failed invasion. In 2004, Washington patched together a “transitional” government, which was too weak to take the capital and operated instead out of the western town of Baidoa.

In June 2006, the Somali Islamic Courts Council, a rival military force to the rulers in Mogadishu, took power. That December, an invasion by Ethiopian troops with U.S. military support routed the council and replaced it with the imperialist-backed transitional regime. Ethiopian troops have since remained in Somalia, trying to maintain the transitional government’s hold. Recently, the Ethiopian government announced it will soon be withdrawing its troops, a move that may hasten the fall of the transitional regime.

Without outside force to back it up, the transitional government is losing ground. President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed announced December 14 he was firing Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein because the government had “failed to accomplish its duties.” Hussein said that the president had no right to fire him and he was not going anywhere. In a confidence vote, the parliament backed Hussein 143 to 20.

Somalia’s strategic position in the Horn of Africa is of high interest to the major imperialist powers for military reasons and because it is an important trade route between Europe and Asia. As many as 21,000 ships pass through the area each year.

There have been some 100 pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia in the past year. As many as 14 ships and nearly 300 crew members are currently in captivity, according to the U.S. Navy. Last month the Saudi supertanker the Sirius Star was captured loaded with $100 million of crude oil. Somali pirates are also holding a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and other weaponry.

The European Union December 15 sent four warships and two maritime reconnaissance aircraft to the region to replace a NATO operation that has been patrolling the waters there since the end of October. Britain, France, Greece, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands have agreed to contribute at least 10 warships and three reconnaissance aircraft to the one-year mission, the EU’s first naval operation.

Washington has justified its intervention in Somalia as part of its “global war on terror.” Last May, at least 10 people were killed when the U.S. military carried out a missile strike in the city of Dusa Marreb while going after an alleged al-Qaeda leader.

That same month protests and riots erupted there over rising food prices, part of the worldwide response to the economic crisis and its impact on toilers in the semicolonial world. Tens of thousands took to the streets in early May and at least five were killed when government troops fired into the crowds. At that time skyrocketing inflation had sent prices for basic cereals such as rice and sorghum up between 100 percent and 400 percent from the previous year.

In January 2007, U.S. helicopter gunships bombed several towns in southern Somalia, claiming they were hunting for al-Qaeda operatives.
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