Monday, 28 February 2011

Tripoli Under Gaddafi Crackdown!

News sources, correspondents and bloggers inside Tripoli describe a heavy crackdown by Gaddafi's remaining supporters, militias and mercenaries. It is clear that Tripoli has become a place of fear, and the promised witch-hunt has ensued, with murders, kidnappings and no doubt torture being dealt out to anti-Gaddafi protesters and opposition politicians. Pitiful pleas have emerged on blogs and twitter sites, where the word 'genocide' is used with startling frequency, appealing to the outside world for help. Yet how to help save their lives is not immediately clear. Nobody wants a George Bush styled crusade, yet at the same time Gaddafi's stalinist purge seems to be wracking tripoli so deeply that there is a need to take some kind of action, and soon.  

Gaddafi's forces have mounted attacks on the fallen cities of Misurata and Zuwara, but anti-Gaddafi protesters have persevered and these cities have maintained their newly liberated status. In Misurata, there is still fighting over the airbase, but protesters have captured the majority of the airbase. When I last checked this morning, Zuwara was surrounded by Gaddafi tanks and there were fears of an imminent attack. However, it is not certain whether this has materialised yet. 

As a whole however, it seems that Libya is largely in the hands of anti-Gaddafi protesters, and that the city of Tripoli is being surrounded on all sides by protesters, threatening to eventually take Tripoli into a siege of sorts, or to mount direct attacks on Tripoli. Already, it seems as though protesters outside of Tripoli are trying to figure out ways to break the last lines of resistance posed by Gaddafi loyalists, and apparently, one march on the capital is already underway.

Internationally, support for Gaddafi is rapidly diminishing. The Russian foreign  minister (finally) declared that the use of military force against civilians in Libya is unacceptable. Russia seemed to be toeing the same line as Gaddafi, citing fears over 'fragmentation' and the over-vaunted 'islamist threat'. Now that the UN has come out unequivocally against the Gaddafi regime, and are putting in place measures to prosecute Gaddafi and his supporters in the International Criminal Court, it seems that Russia doesn't want to appear out of step with international opinion. Latin American leaders have also been notably silent on the atrocities - with the exception of Peru - and the presidents of Venezuela, Nicaragua and (ex presidente) Fidel Castro have stated that they believed Gaddafi to be a victim of a conspiracy to obtain access to their oil reserves.

So will Tripoli fall from international intervention or internal mobilisation (i.e. within Libya and Tripoli itself) and what are the most likely routes to liberation for the city of Tripoli, which stands as a significant (even if only symbolic - oil and gas are already under the control of protesters) last domino, standing in the way of national liberation?

It being impossible to use the future as evidence, it might help to look to the history of popular revolutions to figure out what the most likely trajectory is. However, it is also true that while history often repeats itself, we are now living in an era where historical notions of change and revolution might not apply.

A siege of the city might have the effect of eventually turning Gaddafi's closest remaining allies against him, but it may also result in untold levels of repression within the city, increasing the suffering of residents beyond bearable limits. A direct, staged attack on the city from mutiple fronts might prove a more systematic approach, but urban warfare is fraught with atrocity and suffering and the price may be equally heavy in the end. Direct armed international intervention will most likely fail to bring about the liberation Libyans desire, unless international armed forces provide logistical support and training to Libyans who are advancing upon the capital (i.e. act more in a supportive role).

Yet there is another way that the international community can help Libyans win their freedom. By assisting the rest of liberated Libya in setting up strong representative bodies and interim governance at all levels of society, and by recognising a new liberated Libya on the international stage, Libya can effectively be decared liberated, even though Gaddafi might still be holding out in Tripoli.

If Gaddafi forces in Tripoli refuse to abdicate in light of these announcements, the UN should put in motion discussions and negotiations for the residents of Tripoli to have safe passage out of the city. Failing to comply with these requests can then serve as more motivation to put international support and peace-keeping forces on the ground to assist the defected Libyan army in breaking the siege through taking control of critical routes into and out of the city (Libyans don't seem to want forces on the ground, but perhaps peace-keeping forces that are there to supervise civilian safety might be welcomed). If the residents of Tripoli are given safe passage out of the city then Libyan anti-Gaddafi forces can essentially fight it out with him until the city is won. Essentially, Gaddafi would be pretty stupid not to see that the endgame is in sight and to capitulate because either way he would be a legitimate target for both international and internal forces.

If he takes the residents of Tripoli hostage, he becomes a legitimate target for a greater, extended force than if he doesn't as this would essentially constitute a war crime. Either way, his end is certain. The main goal right now should be to find ways to minimize the loss of life and the torture and barbarism in Tripoli, as that is what will be remembered most and is most important right now.

Already, the violence has been vicious and Gaddafi's army is being replaced by militias constituted of civilians and foreign mercenaries. The first priority should be to ease the suffering of those still under the vice of pro-Gaddafi forces. The message that needs to be sent to his supporters is that if they stand by him, they are most certainly going to die with him - his ultimate implosion will be the end of everyone near him. They need to be clear that they will face overwhelming and decisive force both before and after Tripoli is liberated. Standing by Gaddafi needs to become a dying mans wish.

The main challenge now is time. The more time Gaddafi-forces are allowed to run the streets of Tripoli the higher the death toll and suffering will be. If the UN is going to make moves they should make them now, so that the message to Gaddafi is clear i.e. "you have lost legitimacy to rule in Libya, Libyans have moved on and formed their own government, and you are a war criminal awating trial and your only way of arguing against prosecution is to show compassion for the civilians trapped in Tripoli.

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