RENEGADE OPPOSITION LEADER PREDICTS OIL WAR IN SUDAN
In a recent interview with a pan-Arab daily, a leading Sudanese politician claimed a vote for secession by the oil-rich South Sudan in the upcoming January referendum will not be accepted by the Khartoum government, leading to a third round in the North-South civil war that has already killed over two million Sudanese since 1955 (Asharq al-Awsat, October 8).
Ali Mahmoud Hassanein, Deputy Chairman of al-Hizb al-Ittihadi al-Dimuqrati
(Democratic Unionist Party – DUP), now lives in self-imposed exile in London, where he is organizing a broad coalition “whose primary objective is to topple the government of Omar al-Bashir.” Hassanein was recently in the United States, where he was seeking support for his new front. He rejects suggestions that he is participating in “hotel activism,” noting he had little choice but to flee Sudan after security officials warned him that he would be killed if he continued his political activities after being released from prison last year. In 2008 Hassanein was imprisoned on charges of attempting to overthrow the government after advocating al-Bashir’s trial by the ICC (Sudan Tribune, August 30). Prior to that, Hassanein was arrested along with 30 other opposition figures in July 2007 on similar charges (Reuters, December 29, 2008).
Hassanein is convinced that a vote for independence in South Sudan will soon be followed by al-Bashir’s military crossing into the South to occupy the oil fields:
"There are two possibilities: either the Southerners will choose secession, or, if the referendum is cancelled or if its results are questioned, they will declare unilateral independence. In both cases, al-Bashir will declare, on TV in a national address to the nation, that the oil fields are in danger and that Sudan’s national security is at stake. He will then declare that he has ordered the armed forces to take control of the oil fields."
The veteran 76-year-old politician is a notable opponent of the Sudanese president, whom he describes as “a dictator and a criminal.” Hassanein’s hard-line approach to the Sudanese president and his insistence that the president be tried by the International Criminal Court (which indicted al-Bashir in July 2008) has put him at odds with the DUP leader, Sayed Mohammad Osman al-Mirghani, who is also the leader of Sudan’s Khatmiyya Sufi Order. Sayed al-Mirghani has favored cooperation with al-Bashir since 2005 after having led the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), an umbrella group of armed opposition wings. This political reversal has led the DUP’s deputy leader to criticize the role of Sudan’s traditional political parties in supporting the military/Islamist regime in Khartoum:
"One of the reasons for establishing our movement was our belief that the traditional Sudanese political parties have failed to reflect the aspirations of the Sudanese people. They have been afflicted by inept leadership and have been dominated by certain families. This doesn’t just apply to the DUP, but all other traditional political parties as well."
Here Hassanein was certainly criticizing the DUP’s traditional rival, Sudan’s Umma Party, which is dominated by the descendants of the 19th century Mahdi. The DUP has always been the private preserve of the Mirghani family, leading to calls for Hassanein’s resignation from the party over his opposition to Sayed al-Mirghani. Hassanein, however, rejects such calls, saying, “I am a Unionist, I always have been, and I will die a Unionist.”
Hassanein believes Washington’s apparent improvement of relations with Khartoum is a temporary measure:
"After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, which was sponsored by the U.S., it became clear that the U.S. wanted Southern Sudan to secede. So, now as the referendum in the South is getting closer and closer, the U.S., as expected, is appeasing al-Bashir so that he will not endanger the new state in the South."
The DUP deputy also pointed out that the Southern administration will not relinquish the Southern oil fields without defending them and has been purchasing tanks, planes and weapons with the knowledge that al-Bashir will never let them go. He claimed, “Not only will there be renewed war in the South, but also in Darfur, the east and other parts of Sudan.”
President al-Bashir told Sudan’s parliament last week that he would “not accept” any alternative to Sudanese unity, though his remarks were later downplayed by the Foreign Minister (AFP, October 15). According to Hassanein, with 90% of Sudan’s export revenues coming from oil, al-Bashir and his followers have changed their priorities “from ideology to business and from Shari’a to oil. They have become largely preoccupied with oil companies, pipelines, refineries, explorations, exports and revenues.” Hassanein suggests that without oil revenues the government will go bankrupt, with an economic collapse leading to the political collapse of the regime.
SCHISM IN AL-SHABAAB LEADERSHIP IN SOMALIA FOLLOWS FAILED RAMADAN OFFENSIVE
Though denials have been issued, the failure of al-Shabaab’s Ramadan offensive, intended to rout Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) from Mogadishu, appears to have led to a major rift between the group’s Amir, Shaykh Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr”, and his deputy, Shaykh Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur.”
Though the rivalry between Abu Mansur and Godane goes back some time, it only burst into the open after Abu Mansur’s 1,200 to 2,000 fighters from the southern Bay and Bakool regions began to take heavy losses in the Ramadan offensive. Nearly all of Abu Mansur’s fighters are members of the Digil and Mirifle, known jointly as the Rahanweyn. There are reports of hundreds of deaths and desertions in the Bay-Bakool force, which was apparently pushed into the frontlines of the fighting by northern commanders. Abu Mansur downplayed complaints from his men that they were treated badly by other Shabaab commanders and failed to receive medical treatment when wounded until one of his commanders, Shaykh Ayub, went missing. Eventually Abu Mansur learned from Godane that the Shaykh had been badly wounded and was killed by members of al-Shabaab’s Amniyaat special forces unit (loyal to Godane) to ensure he would die a martyr. This proved the last straw for Abu Mansur, who ordered the withdrawal of his men from the battlefield in Mogadishu (Jowhar, October 8; Wadanka.com, September 28; Suna Times, October 9).
There are questions within al-Shabaab regarding financial improprieties and the appointment of members of Godane’s northern Isaaq clan to vital positions within the movement. A three-day mediation between the two leaders in a hotel in the southern Somali town of Marka failed completely, leading to Abu Mansur’s withdrawal of fighters under his command from Mogadishu (Waagacusub.com, October 1). Godane was supported in the dispute by Shaykh Ibrahim Haji Jama “al-Afghani”, another Shabaab commander from the Isaaq clan, who was quoted as saying, “Mukhtar Robow is a transgressor. He is a tribalist. He is nothing. Let him leave” (Jowhar.com, October 8; Wadanka.com, September 28).
According to one report, Abu Mansur made five demands of the Shabaab leadership:
• The resignation of Abdi Godane as the movement’s leader.
• An agreement to allow aid agencies to operate freely in Somalia.
• The disbanding of the Amniyaat Special Forces.
• The launch of an investigation into the death of senior al-Shabaab commanders in the frontlines.
• The dismissal of any al-Shabaab commanders found to be responsible for these deaths (Jowhar.com, October 8).
After TFG and AMISOM forces began making gains in the fighting, Abu Mansur’s forces returned to Mogadishu from the towns of Baidoa and Hudur in the Bay and Bakool regions (New Vision [Kampala], October 5; Dhacdo.com, October 12). Apparently having made his point that the fighters from these regions were essential to al-Shabaab’s military success, Abu Mansur’s troops were able to help stabilize the frontlines in Mogadishu.
Abu Mansur is reported to have met in Mogadishu with Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of rival Islamist militia Hizb al-Islam, with the two discussing closer ties and a possible alliance against Godane (Markacadey.net, October 10). Abu Mansur was al-Shabaab’s chief negotiator in unification talks with Hizb al-Islam earlier this year that collapsed at the last moment when Godane insisted that Shaykh Aweys’ movement be absorbed into al-Shabaab and operate under that name only. There is speculation that Abu Mansur’s negotiations with Hizb al-Islam were designed to bring the Hawiye clan (which dominates Hizb al-Islam) into his camp, thus creating a powerful coalition against the outsider Abdi Godane, whose Isaaq clan is largely based in breakaway Somaliland and plays a small part in the fighting in south Somalia.
Abu Mansur took to the minbar (pulpit) of a mosque in Mogadishu’s Bakara market on October 8 to deny the reports of the rift (Garowe Online, October 9; Shabelle Media Network, October 9). As if to refute the view of some observers that Abu Mansur is nothing more than a “nationalist in Islamist garb,” the Shabaab deputy leader used the presence of the media to send his greetings to Osama bin Laden, assuring him that al-Shabaab were the students of al-Qaeda. “We are sending a message to our group leader – al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden – that we are still continuing fighting until we join our fellow brothers who were killed by American troops in other countries,” said Abu Mansur (IRIN, October 14; Shabelle Media Network, October 8; Garowe Online, October 9). He then followed his Mogadishu statement with another denial at the Dabaqeynka mosque in Baidoa, where he urged residents of the Bay and Bakool regions to join in the fighting. He described reports of the rift as a fabrication designed to sow suspicion in the ranks of the mujahideen (Somaaljecel.com, October 13).
Abu Mansur’s very public style is at odds with Abdi Godane’s furtiveness. The latter rarely makes public appearances or statements and was widely ridiculed in Somalia after photos appeared on the internet of the Shabaab leader donning women’s clothing as a disguise. One of the major issues between the two men has been Godane’s insistence on banning humanitarian aid agencies from working in Somalia, a ban actively opposed by Abu Mansur and the main reason the latter was relieved of his position as al-Shabaab spokesman last year. Lately the al-Shabaab leadership has even warned Somalis against accepting medical help or pharmaceutical drugs from AMISOM forces, virtually the only source of medical aid for many Somalis caught in war-torn Mogadishu.
It appears the military stalemates in Mogadishu and in Central Somalia against the Sufi Ahlu Sunna wa’l-Jama’a militia have begun to take their toll on the Shabaab leadership, allowing clan rivalries to emerge that were successfully submerged in the movement so long as it continued to gain ground. Godane’s secretive style of leadership and absence from the frontlines does not play well with the Somali fighters under his command, which may leave him perilously short of armed support should Abu Mansur make a play for the leadership.