MOGADISHU — Somalia's rising influential Islamic Courts Union, now controlling the capital Mogadishu and large parts of the Horn of Africa country, is offering an olive branch to the United States.
"We are ready for partnership with the Americans. We would like to work with them if they respect us and stop interfering with Somali internal affairs," Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, head of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"I am not against the US or any other country," he added.
Washington has ruled out any contact with Aweys, whom it is designating a terrorist for alleged links to Al-Qaeda network, but left the door open to contact with other members of the Islamic Courts.
Somalia's interim government and the Islamic Courts last week agreed to recognize each other and hold more talks on July 15 at a meeting in Khartoum brokered by the Arab League.
Tensions have risen between the two sides since the Islamic Courts defeated the US-led warlord Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) and seized full control of the capital Mogadishu on June.
Warlords had controlled the capital since the 1991 overthrow of president Mohamed Siad Barre.
After seizing Mogadishu, JIC fighters swiftly marched northwards, overrunning Jowhar and a string of other small outposts in Hiiraan region without heavy resistance.
Home to about 10 million largely impoverished people, Somalia has lacked almost all the trappings of a functional state, such as national systems of education, healthcare and justice, for the past 15 years.
Aweys, a former army colonel, said the United States must respect the sovereignty of the African nation.
"America should know that all people are equal and that no one has a right to dictate policies to others, including how to administer a nation," he stressed.
"It is our right to impose the laws that we want to govern our country. If we follow Shari`ah, it is not America's problem."
Believed to be in his late 60s, Aweys founded the capital's first Shari`ah court in the mid-1990s.
The head the CIC, which will have ultimate authority over the Islamic Courts Union, criticized Washington for bankrolling the warlords.
"It was shameful for the US to support warlords who have ruined our country for the last 15 years. It was not only a mistake, but a strategic error for them," he said.
Last week, the US top diplomat in charge of Africa Jendayi Frazer sought the help of the Islamic Courts to arrest terrorists believed to be hiding in Somalia.
Nearly half of Americans believe their government should mind its own business and let other countries get along as best they can on their own, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll showed on Friday, April 14.
For the past five years, the US has been championing a "democracy" drive worldwide and a global "war on terror."
Aweys also suggested talks with arch-foe Ethiopia to resolve a lingering territorial dispute that has been a source of animosity between the two countries.
"We are ready to negotiate," he said.
Relations between the countries have been frosty since they fought in 1977-1978 over the ownership of the barren Ogaden region, which is largely inhabited by ethnic Somalis.
"Ethiopia mistreats the Somalis under their administration. The land was given to them by colonialists and we will seek justice to resolve the crisis that is dividing the two countries," Aweys aid.
"The land taken by Ethiopia cannot be forgotten because it is attached to our blood and nationalists," he said, referring to the casualities of war.
Analysts have said that efforts to settle the border dispute face challenges, notably because Addis Ababa is a key ally of Washington in its so-called war on terror.