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With the withdrawal of militant Islamist group al-Shabaab fighters from Mogadishu, a power vacuum has emerged in their former strongholds. Unless Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union peacekeeping forces, known as AMISOM, quickly establish control, locals fear that warlords will once again ignite a new era of clan warfare.
After the fall of military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia plunged into a fractured conflict where warlords and clans divided up territories. The era of the Mogadishu warlords was ended by the Islamic Courts Union, which in 2006 seized control of the capital only to be removed shortly after by an Ethiopian invasion. The ensuing insurgency and Ethiopian occupation, followed by the African Union peacekeeping mission that props up the government, helped keep a lid on the warlords.
However, these men have not gone away, and most have retained their forces while working with the government in some capacity. The fear now is that they may come out of hibernation with new territory up for grabs.
“The warlord alarm bell began to ring when the insurgents fled Mogadishu; in fact they were only 100km from the capital when people started worrying if warlords would emerge or clan warfare might begin,” Mohamed Khadar, a former military intelligence official told Somalia Report.
The recent decision by the president to declare a state of emergency for the positions vacated by the insurgents and IDP camps in the capital has generated speculation that warlords might try to position themselves as the leaders of those areas or that 'junior' or 'new' warlords might try and establish clan militias.
“The fall of al-Shabaab came with the help of junior warlords who either directly or indirectly were involved or connected with the government and the military,” Col. Abdikadir Muse, a TFG military official, told Somalia Report.
He added that some junior warlords have their own freelance militias that have been used by government forces, blurring the lines between pro and anti-government forces.
“They can organize their militia as both government forces and clan militia,” explained the colonel.
Analysts and residents worry that if the warlords reawaken, clan rivalries could hinder government efforts to restore peace to areas vacated by al-Shabaab, as they have proven their capabilities in recent clashes.
“Territories recently seized by the government forces were overwhelmed by clan militia and this has impressed the military leaders,” Mohamed Isse, a political analyst in Mogadishu told Somalia Report.
The question if warlords can or will fight to regain their status of being a powerful elite in Mogadishu despite TFG-AMISOM attempts to maintain security remains. African Union officials have long privately expressed concern that the loose alliance of government forces could fall apart as the warlords break free, with some even calling it a bigger concern than al-Shabaab. However, one AU official said that the warlords would have to face a formidable force should they return to their old ways.
“Al-Shabaab has confirmed that its fighters could not continue with conventional warfare against TFG and AMISOM forces before pulling out from the capital," an African Union peacekeeping official told Somalia Report on the condition of anonymity. "That is what clan militias and warlords could not face if they try to replace al-Shabaab."
The United Nations Representative of General Secretary for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, also hinted about the possible return of warlords as a power unless government and AMISOM force maintain and secure the positions left by the insurgents.
However, Muse Sudi Yalahow, a former warlord and member of parliament, said on state-run radio station said that warlords did not intend to replace the militants.
“We are lawmakers in the parliament and we do not wish return as a power to challenge the government," he said.
Amongs the most well-known warlords are:
- Mohamed Omer Habeeb is a former Mayor of Mogadishu who belongs to Abgal, a subclan of Hawiye. He oversees a force of 400 clan militia based in the northern parts in Mogadishu.
- Yusuf Mohamed Siyad (Indha-Adde) belongs to the Ayr, a sub clan of Habargidir of Hawiye clan, and is a former warlord in the Lower Shabelle region. He was promoted to general in the Somali military and has a strong force of about 400 to 500 clan militia in the southern parts of Mogadishu. His militia is paid for by the government and are considered government forces, although General Yusuf has rejected offers from the government that his militia formally join TFG forces.
- General Abdikarim Gacma-dulle, belongs to Wa’eysle, a sub clan of Abgal clan of Hawiye, and is a former militia leader in the northern parts of Mogadishu. His 500-700 strong militia fought in Shibis, Karan and Abdi-aziz districts in the northern parts of Mogadishu alongside TFG and AMISOM forces.
- General Abdi Hassan Awale Qeybdid belongs to the Sa’ad sub clan of Habargidir of Hawiye and is a former police commander with about 500 clan militia under his control that mainly serve as TFG police. The general is a former aide of General Mohamed Farah Aideed and is known for his antagonistic views against al-Shabaab. He also fought against the Islamic Courts Union in 2006.
- Mohamed Qanyare hails from Murunsade, a sub clan of Hawiye, and is currently a lawmaker. He was a warlord but lost his militia and does not appear to be willing return to lead a clan militia. In an interview, he said that just he has four AK-47 assault rifles for his safety.
- Abdi-nuure Siyad belongs to Ayr, a sub clan of Habargidir of Hawiye. His militia of 150-200 men has the ability to mobilize to fight for clan positions in Mogadishu's northern positions in the Huriwaa, pasta factory and Suukha Hoolaha.
- Yusuf Hagar (Daba-geed) belongs to Hawadle, a sub clan of Hawiye, and is a former warlord in Hiran region with a powerful armed militia of approximately 700 well-armed men. He receives logistical and training support from Ethiopia. Hagar struggles with evicting al-Shabaaab from Hiran.
- General Barre Aden Shire (Hirale) is from Marehan, a sub clan of Darod, and is a former defense minister who was recently released from an Ethiopian detention center. The general and current MP has a strong force of about 800 men, trained and equipped by Ethiopia which fights against al-Shabaab in Gedo region. They are mainly from the Marehan clan and although they use Ahlu Suna Wal Jamaa as their cover, they are considered as both clan militia and TFG force.
- Mohamoud Sayid Aden from Mareehan is affilated with a sub clan of the Darod and is a prominent politician from the Gedo region. He leads his militia similar to the style of General Barre Hirale and he himself has connections with Ethiopia but his forces are less than those of Hirale.