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Cablegate: Somalia - Merka, Other Lower Shabelle Towns Change Hands

VZCZCXRO2377
OO RUEHDE RUEHROV RUEHTRO
DE RUEHNR #2600/01 3220507
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 170507Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY NAIROBI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7601
INFO RUCNSOM/SOMALIA COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 NAIROBI 002600

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/E

E.O. 12356: N/A
TAGS: MOPS PGOV SOCI SO
SUBJECT: SOMALIA - MERKA, OTHER LOWER SHABELLE TOWNS CHANGE HANDS

1.(SBU) Summary: From November 11 - 13, in what appeared to be a
scramble for territorial control, al-Shabaab and former Islamic
Court Union (ICU) militias allied with the moderate Islamist
Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) Chairman Sheikh
Sharif Sheikh Ahmed have separately taken control of five Lower
Shabelle towns, including the important port town and regional
capital Merka. In Merka, al-Shabaab capitalized on internal clan
dynamics to oust the militia of warlord Indha-Adde, a move welcomed
by the Biyamal/Dir, the dominant subclan of Merka's inhabitants, who
had felt marginalized by Indha-Adde's Habr Gedr/Ayr administration
and militias.

2. (SBU) Separately, ICU militias loyal to ARS Chairman Sheikh
Sharif moved into Elesha Biyaha, an IDP settlement between Afgoye
and Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab's take over of Lower Shabelle towns
strategically bordering Mogadishu is both a show of defiance of the
Djibouti accord and a display of power and control. End Summary.

-------------
Al-Shabaab
Daggers Drawn
-------------

3. (SBU) Between November 11 to 13, al-Shabaab militias took control
of the Lower Shabelle towns of Qoryoley, Bulla Marer, Owdheegle,
Janaale and Merka. The strategic port city of Merka, Lower
Shabelle's regional capital, had been under the control of militias
loyal to Sheikh Mohamed Yusuf "Indha-Adde" (a former
warlord-turned-cleric and ICU minister of defense who is now
formally allied with ARS-Asmara but generally viewed by Somalis as a
self-interested warlord). Al-Shabaab met little resistance in
capturing Merka on November 12.

-----------------
Shabaab Exploits
Clan Resentments
----------------

4. (SBU) Post's contacts in Somalia told us that the Biyamal/Dir
subclan, the dominant subclan in Merka over the years, had felt
marginalized by Habr Gedir/Ayr subclan militias under Indha-Adde's
command. Embassy contact Mukhtar Mohamed, himself an Ayr, told us
that although the Biyamal are the majority in Merka, employment
opportunities in most of the 33 local and international agencies
which operated there went to Indha-Adde's clan. In addition,
Mohamed said, the local administration in Merka forced residents to
pay high taxes. Al-Shabaab exploited existing resentments to expel
the former administration, a move welcomed by the locals, Mohamed
said. Abdi Ismail, a Mogadishu-based freelance journalist,
confirmed that it was an al-Shabaab militia --the majority of which
are Digil and Mirifle with an admixture of other clans-- that seized
control of Merka.

5. (SBU) An international aid worker with excellent contacts in
Merka told us that al-Shabaab's entry had been orderly and had not
been resisted by the residents. Shortly after taking control of
Merka, an al-Shabaab spokesman had addressed the residents, had
requested calm, and said that all in the city should go about their
business. The compounds of the World Food Program and other
international NGOs had not been harmed by al-Shabaab, our contact
reported. Employees of the agencies had been told by their NGO
leaderships to stay at home pending talks with al-Shabaab
representatives.

-------------------
Sheikh Sharif's ICU
-------------------

6. (SBU) On November 12, ICU militia loyal to Sheikh Sharif
reportedly occupied Elasha Biyaha, a large IDP settlement between
Afgoye and Mogadishu, in Lower Shabelle. Spokesman Abdirahim Adow
alleged that the ICU was forced to take action after residents
complained of insecurity and exploitation by the local
administration.

7. (SBU) On November 12, Mogadishu residents were treated to a rare
show of courage by a group of prominent Mogadishu clerics. The
sheikhs gathered at abu-Huraira Mosque (an al-Shabaab controlled
mosque near Bakara Market) and openly criticized the use of force
for whatever reason. Both Ismail and Mukhtar told us that the
congregation at the mosque was associated with both al-Shabaab and
the ICU. One month ago it had been unthinkable to criticize the use
of violence at abu-Huraira without provoking retribution by
al-Shabaab. Mogadishu contacts pegged the shift to Sheikh Sharif's
growing influence in the wake of his recent visit to Somalia. The
clerics, Ismail said, took the podium in succession and extensively
quoted from Islamic sources in condemned the violence. (A recent
incident in Kismayu, where a minor was stoned to death was also

NAIROBI 00002600 002 OF 002


condemned, albeit indirectly.) The speeches at the mosque were
broadcast in full by some radio stations while others carried
excerpts on their daily news programs.

-------
Comment
-------

8. (SBU) Al-Shabaab's capture of Merka and the other Lower Shabelle
towns is a show of defiance intended to sabotage the Djibouti
process and demonstrate that they are in control on the ground on
the heels of ARS Chairman Sheikh Sharif's travel to Somalia
following the declaration, in Djibouti on October 26 of an ARS - TFG
unity government. In a November 13 telephone call with Special
Envoy Yates, Sheikh Sharif indicated that al-Shabaab's entry into
Merka was not the last chapter of the struggle now under way for the
Lower Shabelle.
Ranneberger

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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