By Abdirahman Yusuf Jabril
MOGADISHU — Somali businessmen have pledged support for the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS) in its efforts to counter a potential attack by powerful Ethiopia, which has thousands of its troops inside Somalia.
"All Somali businessmen and merchants are willing to spend lavishly and sacrifice themselves to protect their country from an Ethiopian invasion," Abdel Kareem Mahmoud, Head of the Somali Syndicate of Businessmen, told a press conference on Saturday, October 28.
Emerging from talks with SICS leaders in the capital Mogadishu, Mahmoud said the Syndicate has started raising funds for SICS fighters.
"We businessmen are also willing to hand over our weapons to the SICS," he added.
He said a delegation of businessmen will meet Sunday, October 29, with Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the head of the executive arm of SICS, previously known as the Islamic Courts.
Mahmoud urged both the SICS and the interim government to pursue peace talks on power-sharing and political and security issues.
Somalia's powerless interim government said Saturday it had decided to attend a third round of peace talks with the SICS in Sunday on Monday, October 30.
The SICS, which has controlled much of the south since seizing Mogadishu from US-backed warlords in June, and the government agreed last month in principle to create joint military forces.
Negotiations stalled after government allegations the SICS had broken the pact against military expansion by seizing more territory, and after SICS's protest at foreign interference by neighboring Ethiopia in favor of the government.
Thousands of Somalis have volunteered over the past two days for "jihad" against Ethiopia.
Following Friday prayers on October 27, thousands in Mogadishu cheered and railed against Ethiopia, galvanized by a fiery sermon by Sheikh Ahmed.
"We are telling you that from today, we are attacking the Ethiopian forces wherever they are inside Somalia and jihad has begun," the SICS leader told the excited crowd.
"I'm calling on everybody that has a gun in his house to take it up and participate in the fight against the Ethiopian invaders," he said.
"Every one of us must swear not to abstain from this call to jihad and the first man to swear is me."
The response to his call was generally enthusiastic, with many young men vowing to fight to the death.
SICS officials said last week that an estimated 3,000 people had enlisted for jihad and that they had set up an additional seven recruiting stations.
In a boost for the SICS, about 100 fighters loyal to Defense Minister Abdikadir Adan Shire Barre Hiraale shifted allegiance.
The SICS charges that Ethiopia has sent troops to protect the government of President Abdullahi Yusuf, the 14th attempt at central rule since the 1991 ousting of president Mohamed Siad Barre.
Addis Ababa denies any incursion although it says it has sent several hundred armed military trainers.
But a confidential UN report confirmed that 6,000 to 8,000 Ethiopians and 2,000 Eritrean troops were operating inside Somalia.
Many fear the stand-off could erupt into a regional war, sucking in Ethiopia and its rival Eritrea, which denies charges of sending weapons to the SICS.
Relations between Somalia and Ethiopia have been frosty since they fought in 1977-1978 over the ownership of the barren Ogaden region, which is largely inhabited by ethnic Somalis.