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Red Beret Reign of Terror

Faced with shrinking popularity and an armed and organized domestic resistance, Siad Barre unleashed a reign of terror against the Majeerteen, the Hawiye, and the Isaaq, carried out by the Red Berets (Duub Cas), a dreaded elite unit recruited from among the president's Mareehaan clansmen. Thus, by the beginning of 1986 Siad Barre's grip on power seemed secure, despite the host of problems facing the regime. The president received a severe blow from an unexpected quarter, however. On the evening of May 23, he was severely injured in an automobile accident. Astonishingly, although at the time he was in his early seventies and suffered from chronic diabetes, Siad Barre recovered sufficiently to resume the reins of government following a month's recuperation. But the accident unleashed a power struggle among senior army commandants, elements of the president's Mareehaan clan, and related factions, whose infighting practically brought the country to a standstill. Broadly, two groups contended for power: a constitutional faction and a clan faction. The constitutional faction was led by the senior vice president, Brigadier General Mahammad Ali Samantar; the second vice president, Major General Husseen Kulmiye; and generals Ahmad Sulaymaan Abdullah and Ahmad Mahamuud Faarah. The four, together with president Siad Barre, constituted the politburo of the SRSP.

Opposed to the constitutional group were elements from the president's Mareehaan clan, especially members of his immediate family, including his brother, Abdirahmaan Jaama Barre; the president's son, Colonel Masleh Siad, and the formidable Mama Khadiija, Siad Barre's senior wife. By some accounts, Mama Khadiija ran her own intelligence network, had well-placed political contacts, and oversaw a large group who had prospered under her patronage.

In November 1986, the dreaded Red Berets unleashed a campaign of terror and intimidation on a frightened citizenry. Meanwhile, the ministries atrophied and the army's officer corps was purged of competent career officers on suspicion of insufficient loyalty to the president. In addition, ministers and bureaucrats plundered what was left of the national treasury after it had been repeatedly skimmed by the top family.

The same month, the SRSP held its third congress. The Central Committee was reshuffled and the president was nominated as the only candidate for another seven-year term. Thus, with a weak opposition divided along clan lines, which he skillfully exploited, Siad Barre seemed invulnerable well into 1988. The regime might have lingered indefinitely but for the wholesale disaffection engendered by the genocidal policies carried out against important lineages of Somali kinship groupings. These actions were waged first against the Majeerteen clan (of the Daarood clan-family), then against the Isaaq clans of the north, and finally against the Hawiye, who occupied the strategic central area of the country, which included the capital. The disaffection of the Hawiye and their subsequent organized armed resistance eventually caused the regime's downfall.

Oppression of the Isaaq and Hawiye

The Isaaq as a clan-family occupy the northern portion of the country. Three major cities are predominantly, if not exclusively, Isaaq: Hargeysa, the second largest city in Somalia until it was razed during disturbances in 1988; Burao in the interior, also destroyed by the military; and the port of Berbera.

Formed in London on April 6, 1981, by 400 to 500 Isaaq emigrs, the Somali National Movement (SNM) remained an Isaaq clan-family organization dedicated to ridding the country of Siad Barre. The Isaaq felt deprived both as a clan and as a region, and Isaaq outbursts against the central government had occurred sporadically since independence. The SNM launched a military campaign in 1988, capturing Burao on May 27 and part of Hargeysa on May 31. Government forces bombarded the towns heavily in June, forcing the SNM to withdraw and causing more than 300,000 Isaaq to flee to Ethiopia.

The military regime conducted savage reprisals against the Isaaq. The same methods were used as against the Majeerteen-- destruction of water wells and grazing grounds and raping of women. An estimated 5,000 Isaaq were killed between May 27 and the end of December 1988. About 4,000 died in the fighting, but 1,000, including women and children, were alleged to have been bayoneted to death.

The Hawiye occupy the south central portions of Somalia. The capital of Mogadishu is located in the country of the Abgaal, a Hawiye subclan. In numbers the Hawiye in Somalia are roughly comparable to the Isaaq, occupying a distant second place to the Daarood clans. Southern Somalia's first prime minister during the UN trusteeship period, Abdullaahi Iise, was a Hawiye; so was the trust territory's first president, Aadan Abdullah Usmaan. The first commander of the Somali army, General Daauud, was also a Hawiye. Although the Hawiye had not held any major office since independence, they had occupied important administrative positions in the bureaucracy and in the top army command.

In the late 1980s, disaffection with the regime set in among the Hawiye who felt increasingly marginalized in the Siad Barre regime. From the town of Beledweyne in the central valley of the Shabeelle River to Buulobarde, to Giohar, and in Mogadishu, the clan was subjected to ruthless assault. Government atrocities inflicted on the Hawiye were considered comparable in scale to those against the Majeerteen and Isaaq. By undertaking this assault on the Hawiye, Siad Barre committed a fatal error. By the end of 1990, he still controlled the capital and adjacent regions but by alienating the Hawiye, Siad Barre turned his last stronghold into enemy territory.

Faced with saboteurs by day and sniper fire by night, Siad Barre ordered remaining units of the badly demoralized Red Berets to massacre civilians. By 1989 torture and murder became the order of the day in Mogadishu. On July 9, 1989, Somalia's Italian-born Roman Catholic bishop, Salvatore Colombo, was gunned down in his church in Mogadishu by an unknown assassin. The order to murder the bishop, an outspoken critic of the regime, was widely believed to have had come from the presidential palace.

On the heels of the bishop's murder came the infamous July 14 massacre, when the Red Berets slaughtered 450 Muslims demonstrating against the arrest of their spiritual leaders. More than 2,000 were seriously injured. On July 15, forty-seven people, mainly from the Isaaq clan, were taken to Jasiira Beach west of the city and summarily executed. The July massacres prompted a shift in United States policy as the United States began to distance itself from Siad Barre.

With the loss of United States support, the regime grew more desperate. An anti-Siad Barre demonstration on July 6, 1990, at a soccer match in the main stadium deteriorated into a riot, causing Siad Barre's bodyguard to panic and open fire on the demonstrators. At least sixty-five people were killed. A week later, while the city reeled from the impact of what came to be called the Stadia Corna Affair, Siad Barre sentenced to death 46 prominent members of the Manifesto Group, a body of 114 notables who had signed a petition in May calling for elections and improved human rights. During the contrived trial that resulted in the death sentences, demonstrators surrounded the court and activity in the city came to a virtual halt. On July 13, a shaken Siad Barre dropped the charges against the accused. As the city celebrated victory, Siad Barre, conceding defeat for the first time in twenty years, retreated into his bunker at the military barracks near the airport to save himself from the people's wrath.



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