Islamists win battle for Mogadishu

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Two days of vicious fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, has finally subsided with the surrender of troops loyal to the last remaining warlord in the city, Abdi Qeybdid.

Around 500 soldiers loyal to Qeybdid handed themselves over to the Union Of Islamic Courts (UIC) on Tuesday, giving the UIC control of around 99% of the capital. It was not without cost however. Estimates suggest that at least 70 people have been killed since fighting broke out on Sunday, although Reuters news agency puts the figure as high as 140.

One doctor at Medina hospital in Mogadishu told IRIN: "We confirmed 43 yesterday [Monday] and 54 Sunday, a total of 97 deaths," although he admitted that more were being buried on the battlefield.

Abdi Qeybdid is thought have been injured and still hiding inside the city. He is one of the last of the United States backed secular warlords who took control of the capital with the collapse of the government in 1991. The government itself is too weak to maintain the capital and so has been based in the southern town of Baidoa. It is now divided over whether to continue negotiations with the Islamists, who it accuses of breaking an agreed ceasefire; talks between the two sides were supposed take place on Sunday in Khartoum.

The U.S. has accused the Courts of links with Al-Qaeda, which is strongly denied by one of the UIC leaders, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.

Relative calm has returned to Mogadishu, with people back on the streets and traffic returning to normal. In parts of the city already controlled by the Islamic Courts, road blocks have been lifted and the cost of food has dropped considerably. Many however are wary of the extremist elements within the Courts, which have so far seen the banning of the World Cup coverage and public floggings.

Now many in Mogadishu wish peace for a city that had taken damage as the site of many bloody fights over the past 16 years.