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Just when Somalia can’t get any worse…

…it does. Just months after the country’s new Transitional Federal Government (TGF) was inagurated, the Islamist opposition (including the now-infamous al-Shabaab) is trying pretty hard to bring it down. In the last week, clashes between government and opposition Islamist forces have sent 30,000 people fleeing Mogadishu,  UNHCR reported today. “Hundreds of mini-busses ferried people out ...

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A hard-line Islamist teenage fighters mans a checkpoint at a road in the vicinity of the presidential palace in Mogadishu, on May 14, 2009. Somalia's president was holed up in his compound and residents fleeing Mogadishu today, as Islamist insurgents prepared for a final push to seize power, witnesses and officials said. Insurgents have been redeploying many forces from across the country to launch an unprecedented offensive, while Ugandan and Burundian African Union peacekeepers held the fort for Sharif's beleaguered administration. Government forces backed AU peacekeepers controlled nothing in the capital but the presidential compound, a handful of other government institutions in adjacent buildings, as well as the airport and the seaport, witnesses and an AFP correspondent said. AFP PHOTO/Mustafa ABDI (Photo credit should read MUSTAFA ABDI/AFP/Getty Images)

…it does.

Just months after the country’s new Transitional Federal Government (TGF) was inagurated, the Islamist opposition (including the now-infamous al-Shabaab) is trying pretty hard to bring it down. In the last week, clashes between government and opposition Islamist forces have sent 30,000 people fleeing Mogadishu,  UNHCR reported today. “Hundreds of mini-busses ferried people out of Mogadishu. As a result of the high demand, the cost of transportation is going up daily, forcing people with no money to remain in the embattled city.”

It’s the worst violence that the capital has seen in months, and the Islamist opposition looks in no mood to slow their campaign. Some think it might be close to winning. Foreign fighters are rumored to have come to Somalia to take up the cause (though, with few journalists in country, this is hardly confirmed.) But what is clear is that Eritrea is funding the opposition campaign. The Eritrean-based Somali opposition leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, blamed the United Nations envoy for destroying the country, and called the current situation a “political war.” 

What’s to be done? If the United Nations moves forward with its tentative plan, the world could be on the road to sending peacekeepers to Somalia. In the first phase, the UN would support the ongoing African Union mission. Then, a “light footprint” of UN peacekeepers would take shape. Finally, security permitting, a true peacekeeping force would hit the ground. 

Forgive my skepticism, but this is a pipe dream. Sending in piecemeal peacekeepers will be a certain disaster, as the ongoing African Union mission has been (through no fault of the resource-strapped troops on ground). And as I wrote weeks ago, finding the troop numbers to do anything more serious will be politically impossible.

Maybe Aweys has a point. This is a political war, and ignoring that will only make matters worse. Somalia is going to have to find a way to get al-Shabaab and its fellow opposition groups happy with the political arrangment. Until they are, we can expect more updates like this.

MUSTAFA ABDI/AFP/Getty Images

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