Somalia Politicians Fight Insurgents, and Each Other

Somalia's Prime Minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, resigned Tuesday, ending the growing tension between him and Somalia's president, and highlighting just how fractured the country's current transitional unity government actually is.

At a press conference in Mogadishu, the prime minister said he was resigning to end the political turmoil that threatened the country.

"After seeing that the political turmoil between me and the president has caused security vulnerability, I have decided to resign to save the nation and give a chance to others," the prime minister told reporters.

President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed called the act "courageous." Sharmarke thanked "the president and parliament for a year of cooperation."

But beneath the formal, polite tone of today's events lay deep-seated tension and infighting within the fragile government. For months, tensions between the two men and their supporters had intensified to the point where the president fired Sharmarke last May. Parliament declared the move illegal, forcing Ahmed to reinstate the prime minister.

In accordance with current law, the president will now nominate a new head of government. If the 550-member parliament rejects more than two candidates, it will be dissolved, effectively putting an end to the current government. At this time, no one can say who Ahmed will nominate.

The political infighting came amid rising tension between the government and Somali militant groups, the most prominent being al Shabab. The al Qaeda affiliated Shabab was responsible for the suicide bomb attacks in Uganda last July that killed more than 70 people. Al Shabab had also launched endless attacks in Mogadishu, and most recently declared a "final war," during the holy month of Ramadan, against the Somali government and the African Union Troops that protect it.

Al Shabab did not topple the government, but it did launch suicide bombing attacks against government-controlled areas, which included a hotel lodging lawmakers, and the airport. On Monday, a suicide bomber was shot dead as he tried to enter the presidential compound.

Sharmarke: Somalia 'New Front for Al Qaeda'

Sharmarke had warned against the growing threat from al Shabab, telling ABC News in an interview last year that Somalia is "the new front for al Qaeda and extremist groups."

Somalia analysts said Sharmarke's leaving would not fix the already weak Transitional Federal Government, or TFG, which, out of the entire county, controls only a few blocks of Mogadishu.

"This is an attempt by Ahmed and his allies to reinvent the TFG, but this cannot be achieved by changing an individual," Rashid Abdu, a Somali expert the International Crisis Group, told Reuters. "It is a problem with the hybrid system [of governance] which ... is supposed to bring checks and balances, but Somalia's culture of a strong leader lags behind that system."

The current government, a product of a peace agreement signed in Djibouti last year, is unanimously backed by the international community, and the African Union has dispatched thousands of peacekeeping troops to protect it.

The United States is one of its strongest supporters.

"The United States government had informed all parties that the ongoing dispute essentially paralyzed the Transitional Federal Government, was counterproductive and did not serve the best interests of the Somali people," a U.S. State Department official said in a statement to ABC News. "We called on all parties to set aside their differences, stop the political infighting and focus on the important tasks of governing Somalia during this critical time."

The State Department statement also called on the president to nominate a new prime minister in "the very near future."

Ahmed and Sharmarke were never natural political bedfellows. Ahmed is viewed as conservative. The former head of the Islamic Courts Union government in 2006, he was denounced by the international community as radical and was subsequently overthrown by a Western-backed Ethiopian government.

Sharmarke, on the other hand, is considered more moderate, having spent much of his life in Canada and the United States.

It wasn't different ideologies that ultimately undid the relationship, however, but a new draft constitution. Ahmed wanted to put the new constitution to a general vote, while Sharmarke believed the country could not hold a credible general election in its current state and wanted parliament to decide.