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The Supreme Islamic Courts Union / al-Ittihad Mahakem al-Islamiya (ICU)

The collapse of Siad Barre's regime in 1991 created a power struggle between local Somali warlords and Islamic militia leaders. Since the collapse, the rule of law had mainly been maintained by various Islamic courts, instituting "Sharia" (Islamic) law, much like in Afghanistan prior to the fall of the Taliban in 2001. They banned anything associated with Western culture (i.e. music, movies) and even disallowed people from watching the World Cup. Violators had known to be publicly executed. These Islamic militias gained popularity amongst their separate clans in Somalia by providing educational and medical services that became unavailable without a central government. In 2000, 11 of the clans that held these courts decided to consolidate their power. They formed the Supreme Islamic Courts Union (al-Ittihad Mahakem al-Islamiya and known by the acronym ICU). Their stated goal was to make Somalia a peaceful and stable Islamic State. The majority of Somalis were Sunni Muslims.

The ICU was a creation of al-Ittihad al-Islamiya (AIAI), a group formed in 1984 from al-Jamma al-Islamiya and Wahdat al-Shabab al-Islam. The latter groups were created in the 1960's during the rise of Sayyid Qutb and his radical anti-Western writing about militant Islam. For decades these groups, with the help of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF, an ethnically-Somali Ethiopian separatist group), had carried out cross-border attacks against Ethiopian forces. The ICU was established in 2000 after AIAI suffered significant losses during direct confrontations with Ethiopian forces. AIAI was believed to be a supporter of Al-Qaeda and was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the US State Department.

Although the presence of different clans stood as a potential obstacle to its survival, the ICU's popularity and strength grew since its inception. The ICU's main opposition was the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), formed in Nairobi in October 2004 by warlords supported by Ethiopia and a largely-assumed CIA-backed group known as the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT). It had also been speculated that the ICU had been funded by Ethiopia's adversary Eritrea, while the ARCPT had received aid from American ally Djibouti.

The Chairman and de facto spokesman for the ICU, as of October 2006, was Sheik Sharif Ahmed. However, Ahmed was viewed as a moderate and might not have had much power within the ICU. Ahmed's militant deputies, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys and Sheik Adan Hashi Ayro, organized the attacks on Mogadishu in June 2006 and were presumed to be more powerful. Aweys, a former AIAI leader, was the Secretary-General of the ICU and was designated as a terrorist by the US State Department and the United Nations in 2001. Ayro, also a former AIAI leader, was trained in Afghanistan and fought in the Soviet-Afghan War. He was charged in absentia by a Somaliland court for the murder of 4 foreign aid workers in 2003.

In May 2006, heavy fighting broke out in Mogadishu between the non TFG-affiliated Supreme Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and TFG warlords hoping to curry favor with the United States by fighting against supposed terrorist supporters. The ICU was formed in 2000 by former members of al-Ittihad al-Islamiya (AIAI), a group that fought along with the ethnically-Somali Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). AIAI and OLF forces sought the secession of the Ogaden region from Southern Ethiopia. The TFG warlords, and a group known as the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT), were widely believed to be receiving money from America. In June 2006, the ICU seized control of Mogadishu and much of the Southern Somalia. As the Islamic Courts Union militias try to extend their control in Somalia, there are conflicting views about the ICUs governing style and objectives. Some said it brought calm to a troubled country, while others suggest links to terrorist groups. As of October 2006, the ICU controlled the majority of Southern Somalia. Semi-autonomous Somaliland and Puntland remained in control of their respective regions in the north. A concerted offensive by forces of the TFG along with Ethopian military between December 2006 and January 2007 effectively dispersed the ICU. A large militant component, known generally as al-Shabaab, continued to fight the TFG and foreign forces.




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