Somalia's transitional government and a powerful moderate Islamic religious organization have formed an alliance aimed at ousting al-Qaida linked extremists who control much of the country
According to VOA’s Peter, a senior Somali official and the spiritual leader of the Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama'a signed a power-sharing agreement at African Union headquarters.
The deal signed by Somalia's deputy prime minister and finance minister Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama'a spiritual leader Sheikh Yussuf Mohammed Heefaw commits the government to give the Sufi religious movement a significant, but as yet unspecified number of government positions.
In return, Ahlu Sunna's militia of several thousand fighters will be integrated into the TFG armed forces. Analysts say the new troops will give the government an advantage over the well-armed and financed but numerically small al-Shabab rebels.
Somalia's Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke called enlisting the help of the moderate Islamic group an essential step in restoring stability in a country that has been ungovernable for nearly two decades. "It is a victory for peace and a crushing defeat for spoilers and anti-peace campaigners and extremist groups."
The Ahlu Sunna leader, Sheikh Heefaw, acknowledged difficult issues lie ahead, such as exactly how the two groups will share power.
But speaking through an interpreter, he said Somalia's Sufi Muslim leaders had concluded they could no longer ignore an assault on their culture by al-Qaida linked religious extremists.
"What led us to combat and fight, is religious organizations or so called religious people who did not have regard with any religion or culture or other nations. It is a factor that has to be eradicated. If we do not fight and combat this, the existence of the Somali people and the nation is at stake."
The Ahlu Sunna leader called the fight 'ideological': “It's not a fight or a struggle against people, but against an ideology. The meaning of this agreement is to save the people of Somalia and the reputation of the Islamic faith and the whole international community."
Top officials of the United Nations, the Arab League, the east African regional group IGAD and the African Union were on hand to witness the agreement.
In his keynote speech, AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping called Ahlu Sunna's decision to join forces with the TFG the "right thing" to do. He spoke in French through a translator.
“History and God will severely judge those who promote hatred instead of tolerance, who are sowing dissolution and death instead of prosperity and good relationships. History and God will be favorable to all those who are working together to give Somalia a better future."
Previous efforts to drive al-Shabab from Somalia have failed. An invasion by Ethiopian troops in December 2006 drove a radical Islamic Courts Union from power, but triggered a backlash that forced the Ethiopian troops to withdraw in early 2009.
The African Union currently maintains a force of 5,200 peacekeepers backing the TFG in Mogadishu, but much of the countryside remains under al-Shabab control, creating difficulties for humanitarian groups. Prime Minister Sharmarke told Monday's signing ceremony more than 40 percent of the Somali population requires food assistance.