ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - Four months after Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi declared his own "war on terror" against an Islamist movement in Somalia, Ethiopia remains entangled in a situation that analysts and critics are comparing to the U.S. experience in Iraq.
Though Meles proclaimed his military mission accomplished in January, thousands of Ethiopian troops remain in the Somali capital, where they have used attack helicopters, tanks and other heavy weapons in a bloody campaign against insurgents that in recent weeks has killed more than 1,000 people, mostly civilians, and forced about half the city's population to flee.
On Thursday, the Ethiopian-backed Somali prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, declared that three weeks of heavy fighting were over, a statement tempered by the mortar blasts that continued to boom in the distance, witnesses said.
Meanwhile, a political crisis seems to be worsening, as the Somali transitional government, steadfastly supported by the United States, faces a swell of criticism for ignoring concerns of the city's dominant Hawiye clan, whose militias form the core of the insurgency and who are motivated not by the ideology of jihad, but by power.
"It's just exactly like the Americans in Iraq," said Beyene Petros, a member of the Ethiopian Parliament and an early critic of the invasion. "I don't see how this was a victory. It really was a futile exercise."
The United States, which had accused Somalia's Conservative Council of Islamic Courts movement of being hijacked by extremist ideologues, followed Ethiopia's invasion with air strikes aimed at three suspects in the 1998 American embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, along with certain Islamic Courts leaders accused of having terrorist ties.
Four months later, however, none of those targets has been killed or captured, and the U.S. air strikes are confirmed to have killed only civilians, livestock, and a smattering of Islamist fighters who were never accused of any crime.
More than 200 FBI and CIA agents have set up camp in the Sheraton Hotel here in Ethiopia's capital and have been interrogating dozens of detainees - including a U.S. citizen - picked up in Somalia and held without charge and without attorneys in a secret prison somewhere in the city, according to Ethiopian and U.S. officials who say the interrogations are lawful.
U.S. and Ethiopian officials say they have netted valuable information from some of the 41 detainees, who are being brought before a court whose proceedings are closed to the public.
Others have been quietly released, however, and human-rights groups are criticizing the joint operation as a kind of "decentralized Guantanamo" in the Horn of Africa.
Ethiopian officials declined to be interviewed on the subject of Somalia, and a general blackout of information about the war prevails in the capital. Opposition members of Parliament complain that they have not been informed how many Ethiopian soldiers have been killed, how much the war is costing, or how the government is paying for it.
There is also a sense here that while the invasion served Meles' domestic interests, Ethiopia was also doing a job on behalf of the United States and was being left with a financial and military mess.
Supporters of Meles are mostly playing down the trouble, even as they are scrambling behind the scenes to find a solution. Knife Abraham, a Meles adviser, described the situation in Mogadishu - where the bodies of Ethiopian soldiers have been dragged through the streets - as "a hiccup."
"The victory was swift and decisive," Abraham said. "Now Ethiopia wants to stabilize the situation and get out."
But it remains unclear how Ethiopia will manage to do that while preserving Somalia's fragile transitional government and preventing more violence.