SINCE the humiliating withdrawal of US forces a decade ago, Somalia has been a nation in the grip of anarchy with rival law lords vying for power in the capital Mogadishu, a port city of two million people. During this period a weak interim government with international backing has ruled ineffectively from the interior of the country. Last June militants known as the Islamic Courts Council took control of Mogadishu and established a degree of law and order there. More recently these militant forces have moved inland with the intention of overthrowing the interim government and taking control of the whole of Somalia. The government sought help from neighbouring Ethiopia whose superior ground and air forces have helped the Somali army to drive the militants back towards Modagishu in the past few days. Eritrea, which has been involved in border disputes with Ethiopia for many years, is supporting the militants. The scene is set for a prolonged conflict as fighters arrive from Libya, Syria and Lebanon to join the Islamic Courts Council forces in a holy war against Ethiopia, a country with a long Christian history that today is half-Muslim. The African Union appears to support the Somali government in the pre-emptive action it has taken against the Islamic Courts Council but has called for all foreign troops to leave. The UN's special envoy for Somalia told the Security Council yesterday that the fighting could have serious consequences for the Horn of Africa and beyond.
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