By Guled Mohamed
Monday, July 10, 2006; A11
MOGADISHU, Somalia, July 9 -- Islamic militiamen attacked fighters loyal to defeated secular warlords in Mogadishu on Sunday, and at least 20 people were killed and scores wounded in heavy street battles, witnesses said.
The death toll was expected to rise in the most serious flare-up since the militiamen seized control of the Somali capital from U.S.-backed warlords a month ago.
Mogadishu's war-weary residents ran for cover as rival groups fired machine guns and pounded each other with mortar rounds near an area that had been a pocket of warlord resistance to the Islamic militiamen.
"I am fighting for Islam, and I don't fear dying," said Ahmed Hashi, a militiaman who suffered head injuries.
The Islamic militias, wanting complete control of the coastal capital, set a daybreak ambush for fighters loyal to Hussein Aideed, an interior minister in the interim government, and another warlord, Abdi Awale Qaybdiid.
As they put up checkpoints around the area to prevent the militiamen from escaping or receiving help, both warlords vowed that their men would fight to the end.
Aideed, speaking from the provincial town of Baidoa, where the interim government is based, said: "They took over one of our bases in the Hosh area of western Mogadishu, which was in our hands for the last 15 years. . . . We won't give up."
Staff members at one of Mogadishu's main hospitals said victims were pouring in on the back of pickup trucks in scenes reminiscent of battles earlier this year when Islamic fighters took over the city.
"Every five minutes, vehicles carrying wounded are coming in," said hospital administrator Ali Moallim, adding that 20 people had died and nearly 100 were wounded, many with serious gunshot wounds, some requiring amputation.
After the June 5 capture of Mogadishu, the Islamic militiamen took other towns across a large swath of southern Somalia. Their advance has challenged the aspirations of the Western-backed interim government, which was formed in Kenya in 2004 and is based in Baidoa because it is too weak to enter Mogadishu.
Talks between the government and Islamic militias are scheduled to begin Saturday in Sudan.
Most of the warlords who had run Mogadishu since the 1991 ouster of military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre surrendered or fled after their defeat in last month's battles, in which 350 people were killed, but pockets of fighters loyal to them hung on.
Sunday's battle ended a relative lull in violence for Somalis.