Policy WATCH:
Al-Shabaab Set to Exploit Divisions
Rift Between TFG and ASWJ Threatens Stability of Galguduud
By GALAD ALI ISMAIL 12/23/2011
ASWJ Forces
ASWJ Forces
During the last weeks of December, the thus far solid relationship between the moderate Sufi militia Ahlu Sunnah wal Jamaa (ASWJ) and the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has begun to weaken precipitously. Unless both sides take steps to heal the rift, the break between the two threatens to become permanent.

Tensions between the two sides came to a head earlier this week, when ASWJ officials ordered visiting TFG MP Abdi Jama Abdihafit to leave the Abudwaq district of Galguduud region, sparking a firefight that killed seven. In an indication of the growing divide, most of ASWJ's leadership has refused to participate in the UN-sponsored reconciliation conference that opened this Wednesday in Garowe. ASWJ representatives had attended the first consultative session, held in Mogadishu from September 4-6.

Poised to take advantage of the division is the Islamist group al-Shabaab, a merciless organization feared by most Somalis, due to their killings of innocent people, imposition of draconian laws, and stealing of young boys and girls away from their parents. Al-Shabaab has already smelled the blood in the water, launching attacks on ASWJ bases in the Dhusamreeb district of Galguduud this past Sunday and Thursday.

ASWJ also faced an attack on another front, as Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) launched a revenge raid on Wednesday night, resulting in the deaths of five ASWJ fighters.

Adding to ASWJ's hardships is the fact that the organization is dependant on the TFG for weapons, vehicles, and training. If the TFG withdraws this support from ASWJ due to their internal squabbles, there is a very good chance that al-Shabaab's aim to capture ASWJ bases in Galguduud will be realized.

On Monday, an al-Shabaab commander in Galduduud, Sheikh Awale Mohamed Ali, announced the organization's strategy to pro-Shabaab Andalus Radio. Al-Shabaab, he said, would continue to carry out attacks such as those on December 18 and 22, with the aim of probing ASWJ positions for weaknesses. The long-term aim of the militant group will be to completely evict ASWJ from Galguduud, their chief stronghold and power base, after which dealing a death blow to the Sufi militia will be a simple matter.

If al-Shabaab manages to defeat ASWJ, it will provide the Islamist group with a large base in central Somalia from which to expand to other regions. Such a shift in the balance of power, given the already tenuous stability of Somalia, is a frightening prospect indeed.