Azawad: Islamic state collapses —already?

Reports from Mali’s breakaway northern region of Azawad are as murky and contradictory as ever. Last week we were told that the Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) had cut a deal with the largest jihadi faction in the region, Ansar Dine, for creation of an “Islamic state.” Now a May 29 AFP report picked up by Nigeria’s This Day and South Africa’s IOL News quotes a Tuareg rebel leader as saying the deal has collapsed. But the leader is named as speaking not in the name of the MNLA, but a “National Liberation Front of Azawad (FNLA).” To wit:

“We have refused to approve the final statement because it is different from the protocol agreement which we have signed,” said Ibrahim Assaley, a member of the Tuareg rebel National Liberation Front of Azawad (FNLA).

Moussa Ag Asherif, a top member of Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), confirmed the impasse which came just 48 hours after the two groups declared the independent Islamic state of Azawad in northern Mali.

Amazingly, there is no acknowledgement of the inconsistency in the text. It could be a simple error. But we have noted earlier reports that an Arab militia calling itself the Azawad National Liberation Front (FLNA) has emerged in Timbuktu—presumably to defend Arab interests against Tuareg hegemony. Assuming that it really is the MNLA that has broken with Ansar Dine, this is a heartening sign that they have not betrayed their secularism in the interest of power. The report continues:

A draft of the statement by Ansar Dine spoke of applying “pure and hard” Sharia, or Islamic law, and banning non-Muslim humanitarian groups from the area, Assaley told AFP by phone from Gao, where the unity talks took place.

“It is as if they want us to dissolve into Ansar Dine,” complained the representative of the secular Tuareg rebels. “That is unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, a May 30 report on the France-based Tamazgha website, voice of the Berber and Tuareg peoples of North Africa, carries an open letter from a group calling itself the “Coordination Cadres of Azawad” to MNLA secretary general Bilal ag-Achérif rejecting the alliance with Ansar Dine and declaring that “Salafist jihadism, advocated by Ansar Dine, is irreconcilable with the political line of the MNLA, and contrary to the Islam practiced by all the populations of Azawad…” The statement is signed by one Habaye ag-Mohamed, but the “Coordination Cadres” are not explicitly identified.

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  1. AQIM is gaining a Sfae Haven
    MNLA actually controls very little of importance in the key towns of Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao these are firmly in the hands of Ansar Al Din (who is really a proxy of Al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the MUJWA (movement for unity and jihad in west Africa). Their control is strengthening through implementation of sharia, control of mosques, schools, radio stations, control of fuel, electricity and even food aid. Those that oppose Sharia are being deprived of food aid. Much like Somalia with al Shabaab, AQIM uses its proxy Ansar Al din to create an environment that can facilitate its freedom of movement, their ultimate goal is to create an Islamic emirate in Azawad as part of Al Qaeda’s goal of restoring the caliphate. AQIM is actually well positioned in Ansar Al Din, according to Ambassador Fowler’s book “A Season in Hell” Omar1 was his primary kidnapper, part of Mohktar Bel Mohktar’s faction in AQIM and his AKA is Omar Ould Hammaha this is one of Ansar Al Din’s chief spokesman. The government of Mali never had real control of these areas and it offered little in the way of services to the populations, therefore most people in Azawad have seen themselves as separate from Mali a long time. The rebellions were really an attempt to get greater recognition and support from the government, other rebellions ended in agreements that were never fully implemented to develop the north. The grievances the population has are legitimate ones. MNLA has a secular and democratic agenda opposes Ansar al Din and its supporter AQIM’s attempts to impose Sharia and establish an Islamic state. Now that the Islamists have high jacked the rebellion, its likely that MNLA would attempt to resist but with no outside support it’ll be tough and likely fail. Again Mali would fail without significant outside help. A return to Malian govt control is not acceptable to the majority of the northern population, If Mali attempted to retake the north it would probably face both MNLA, Ansar Al Din and its allies MUJWA and AQIM. Emergence of a secular MNLA led popular resistance enabled by outside assistance is probably the best chance to remove AQIM’s growing presence. If on the other hand nothing is done, Northern Mali will be a Somalia like environment. Al Qaeda will strengthen its already strong control on Northern Mali and use it as a place to plan and mount operations into the region and elsewhere such as Europe. Another issue is Drug trafficking, Northern Mali is on the transit route for both Hashish and Cocaine; in 2009 a 727 was discovered landed in Northern Mali which had an estimated 8 tons on Cocaine. Now that Islamists and their allies control airports we could see the drug trafficking expand dramatically.