October 2013        

US meddling led to Westgate massacre

The global reach of US imperialism has played a large role in the problems of Somalia and in the rise of radical Islam there. This story is crucial to seeing through the media hype generated by the Westgate Shopping Centre horror.
     When UN forces left Somalia in 1995 the country was racked by civil war. Famine, violence and political chaos were the norm. Yet radical Islam was not yet a strong force in Somali society: it only strengthened later, when a foreign, non-Muslim threat entered the country.
     A very weak Transitional National Government was formed in Somalia in 2000. But the Bush government decided to finance warlords rather than strengthen this moderate Islamic government. These warlords, equipped with American weaponry, killed and captured supporters of Islamic movements in the country.
     In 2001 the Bush government closed the al-Barakaat money transfer company, claiming it was involved in the financing of al-Qa‘ida when in fact the company had no relation to al-Qa‘ida. Thousands of people in poverty-stricken Somalia depended on money transferred through al-Barakaat from families abroad. Some $200 to 500 million a year was transferred to Somalia at the time, significantly more than the $60 million the country received in international aid. The closing of al-Barakaat was a death sentence for many Somali families.
     During this time some Islamist factions united to resist the warlords. Some of these, including al-Shabaab (“Youth”), joined the Union of Islamic Courts, an indigenous reaction to the warlords. The courts governed effectively and as a whole did not impose a harsh Islamic rule over Somalia. Issues internal to the country were its remit; it had no connection to al-Qa‘ida. By 2006 it had united most of Somalia. With popular support, it drove out the US-backed warlords.
     But its attempts to establish friendly relations with the international community were rejected by the United States, which saw the UIC as being too independent and open to radical Islamic influence.
     However, under the UIC, security improved dramatically. Ports and airports reopened. Food prices dropped sharply, aid shipments reached their goals, and crime decreased. For the first time in fifteen years Somalia had some semblance of stable central government. Most Somalis saw these changes as a significant improvement.
     But the United States backed Ethiopia’s incursion into Somalia in 2006 to prop up the Somali Transitional National Government, which then controlled only a tiny part of the country. The invasion became a brutal two-year occupation, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced and 16,000 civilians killed. It created a great amount of unrest and political chaos, and it radicalised al-Shabaab. New Islamist-nationalist fighters swelled the organisation’s ranks from about four hundred in 2006 to thousands by 2008.
     Al-Shabaab leaders publicly praised al-Qa‘ida, condemning American crimes against Muslims around the world. Like Hezbollah, it became a substantial social movement. In many areas it became the only organisation that could provide basic social services, medicine, food assistance, and a justice system.
     The Ethiopian forces withdrew, but African Union troops stayed in Somalia to support the US-backed Transitional Federal Government. Foreign fighters continued to pour into al-Shabaab, and by 2010 it controlled more territory than any other group affiliated to al-Qa‘ida. American air strikes increased its popular support. Its military potential was weakened by increased numbers of AU troops on the ground and more aggressive AU operations, though it continued to be able to carry out major attacks.
     In 2011 Kenya, a long-time ally of the imperialist powers, used the kidnapping of foreigners by al-Shabaab to justify a military intervention in Somalia. It declared al-Shabaab to be behind the kidnappings, though the organisation denies such involvement. The Kenyan invasion resulted in an air strike on a refugee camp and huge disruption in the distribution of food aid. Kenyan troops were integrated in the AU force, which remains in Somalia to prop up the TFG government.
     Al-Shabaab’s stated rationale for the Westgate attack is to punish Kenya for its presence as part of the US-supported AU force occupying Somalia. “The attack at West Gate Mall,” they said, “is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders.”
     US policies bear direct responsibility for the rise of al-Shabaab and radical Islam in Somalia. They have been successful—as in so many other places—only in causing death, destruction, and the strengthening of popular resistance movements.
     As the United States, driven by its attempt to dominate the region, is unlikely to end its violence in the Middle East, it’s only a matter of time before the horror of another Westgate Shopping Centre looms. When that occurs, look through hollow hysteria and assign the blame to those to whom it rightly belongs: the strategists of global imperialism.

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