Somalia making progress but ‘must tackle extremism’

Large segments of the Somali population face poverty and a lack of food. (AFP)
Updated 21 May 2019
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Somalia making progress but ‘must tackle extremism’

  • Almost 90 percent of households lack access to basic services, such as education and water and sanitation

NEW YORK: Somalia is making progress toward building a functioning state but must still tackle violent extremism, terrorism, armed conflict, political instability and corruption, the UN chief said in a new report.

Antonio Guterres said in the report to the UN Security Council circulated Monday that these challenges “demonstrate the fragility of the gains made so far” and “threaten progress.”

After three decades of civil war, extremist attacks and famine, Somalia established a functioning transitional government in 2012 and has since been working to rebuild stability. But Guterres said that “the security situation remained volatile” between the mid-December and early May reporting period.

The militant group Al-Shabab, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, continues to be “the main perpetrator of attacks against government facilities, government officials and security forces as well as popular restaurants and hotels,” he said.

Guterres said March and April witnessed “a significant increase of attacks in Mogadishu, where incidents involving improvised explosive devices occurred almost every day.” In March, he said, there were 77 such attacks across the country, the highest single monthly total since 2016.

In addition, Guterres said, there was “a notable increase in mortar attacks, which demonstrated Al-Shabab’s improved capacity to hit strategic targets with precision and accuracy.” 

And the militant group continued to carry out attacks using suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, he said. 

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Al-Shabab has increased the frequency of its mortar attacks, and demonstrated its capacity to hit strategic targets accurately, said UN chief Antonio Guteres.

At the same time, the secretary-general said, the reporting period saw an increase in security operations “and a large number of airstrikes targeting Al-Shabab training bases and assembly points” that were deemed to have degraded its operating capability and freedom of movement.

“They have also led, however, to increased Al-Shabab movement into urban centers, in particular Mogadishu, where their forces are less likely to be targeted from the air,” he said. In addition to security threats, Guterres said large segments of the Somali population face poverty and a lack of food. He said the World Bank estimates in a forthcoming poverty and vulnerability assessment that 77 percent of Somalia’s population is living below “the international extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day.”

“Poverty is especially deep and widespread in rural areas and in internally displaced persons settlements,” Guterres said. 

“Almost 90 percent of households lack access to basic services, such as education and water and sanitation.”

The United Nations launched an appeal Monday for $710 million to help 4.5 million drought-affected Somalis in the most severely affected areas of the country between now and the end of December. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric noted that the 2019 UN humanitarian appeal for more than $1 billion for Somalia is only 20 percent funded.

“Many areas are experiencing critical water shortages, widespread crop failure, and diminished livestock conditions following two consecutive failing rainy seasons,” Dujarric said, stressing the need for additional funding.


Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2019
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Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

  • “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations”

BAGHDAD: Moqtada Al-Sadr, the powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric, on Monday threatened to withdraw his support for the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi if the prime minister fails to finalize the formation of his Cabinet within 10 days.
Al-Sadr is one of the most influential clerics in the country, with millions of followers, a large armed faction and a parliamentary bloc. He is the official sponsor of the Reform Alliance, the second-largest parliamentary coalition, which is overseeing the formation of the government following the national parliamentary elections in May last year. The removal of his support for Abdul Mahdi’s government might take the form of an announcement that he no longer has confidence in the Parliament, or the organization of mass demonstrations.
Abdul Mahdi, who became prime minister in October, formed his government with the support of Reform and the pro-Iranian Construction coalition. The latter is led by Hadi Al-Amiri, the commander of Badr Organization, one of the most powerful Shiite armed factions. However, disputes between the two alliances over some of the candidates erupted at the last minute, as a result of which four ministries remain vacant: Interior, defense, education and justice.

Monday’s statement, which was signed by Al-Sadr and described as his “last call,” was addressed to his Saeiroon parliamentary bloc, the leaders of all political blocs, and Abdul Mahdi. It was issued in response to criticism on social on Monday because of the vote by members of the parliamentary blocs, including Al-Sadr’s MPs, the day before to grant all the privileges enjoyed by the former MPs to the deputies who ruled out by the Federal Supreme Court due to the error of counting their votes.
“All the political blocs must authorize the prime minister to complete his ministerial Cabinet within 10 days…and he (Abdul Mahdi) must choose (the ministers) according to the standards of integrity, efficiency and specialization, or I will not support him,” Al-Sadr’s statement read.

His position is the latest in a series of events that have put pressure on Abdul Mahdi in recent weeks. These include efforts by some political blocs, including Saeiroon, to dismiss a number of ministers under the pretext of failure to improve services and inability to combat the financial and administrative corruption that is rampant in their departments.
While most political leaders believe that reaching a political agreement on candidates to fill the vacant ministries within 10 days “will be very difficult” and predict “this may be the end of the government of Abdul Mahdi,” some believe that Al-Sadr’s goal is to pile more pressure on Abdul Mahdi as a way to obtain certain concessions.

“Saeiroon is still negotiating with the prime minister and the other political partners to obtain some key government posts that its rivals are looking to get, and Abdul Mahdi refused to give them to the Saeiroon candidates, so this could be a part of this,” said a prominent Shiite negotiator who asked not to be named. “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations."