Undeterred by the horrors and disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the Bush administration has opened another battlefront in the Muslim world. With US backing, Ethiopian troops have invaded Somalia in an illegal war of aggression.
But this brazen US-sponsored bid to topple the popular Islamists who had brought Somalia its first peace and security in 16 years has already begun to backfire. Looting has forced the transitional government to declare a state of emergency. Clan warlords, who had terrorised Somalia until they were driven out by the Islamists this year, have begun carving up the city once again. And the African Union, which helped create the transitional government, has called for the immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from the country, as did Kenya, a close US and Ethiopian ally.
They had little choice: the invasion was a clear violation of international law and a UN security council resolution, which the US itself pushed through earlier this month, that explicitly forbade troops from any neighbouring country from joining even the new peace-keeping force it authorised for Somalia. That still did not prevent the Bush administration from issuing a strong statement of support for the Ethiopian offensive.
As with Iraq in 2003, the US has cast this as a war to curtail terrorism. The real goal of course is to gain a direct foothold in another highly strategic and oil rich region by installing a client regime in Somalia. The US had already been violating the UN arms embargo on Somalia by supporting the warlords who drove out the UN peace-keepers in 1993 by killing 18 US soldiers, in order to push out the Islamists. That effort failed and an Ethiopian invasion remained the only way to oust a group with popular support. All independent experts warned against such a war, saying it would destabilise the region.