Mogadishu was back in the headlines at the weekend, with heavy fighting in the Somali capital between the Ethiopian- and US-backed “transitional government” and its Islamic opponents.

The BBC reports “dozens of civilians” killed and “hundreds” wounded, plus the death of one Ugandan peacekeeper.

That’s not going to push Iraq off the front page just yet, but both countries represent the same blundering folly of American policy.

Last year, Somalia seemed to be heading for stability for the first time in more than a decade. The militia known as the Union of Islamic Courts controlled most of the major cities and apparently enjoyed widespread support.

But neighboring Christian-dominated Ethiopia felt threatened by a united Somalia, and it sent troops to shore up the “transitional government” – a collection of feuding warlords on the run from the UIC.

As I wrote back in September, “by supporting them, the west risks repeating the same mistakes it has already made across much of the middle east.”

And that’s just what happened. The US, believing its own propaganda about “Islamic terrorists”, lent military and diplomatic support to the Ethiopians. At the end of December, they overran Mogadishu and ousted the UIC.

So what happens when military intervention ignores the realities on the ground and goes against the wishes of the local population? That’s right: insurgency, civil war, the loss of innocent lives. Yesterday Baghdad, today Mogadishu.

The “Islamists” have popular support not because of their fundamentalism or their supposed links to al-Qa’eda, but because they promise clean government, democracy and national independence. By demonising them, the US shows itself to be its own worst enemy.

Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, intervention in Somalia happened with virtually no prior discussion or debate, and American policymakers probably still don’t realise what they’ve let themselves in for.

At least they haven’t yet asked for an Australian contribution.

Peter Fray

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