Libya: battles won, a war still simmers

Posted on August 30, 2011


from Eva Haroun

Twice over the past week following the claimed fall of Tripoli to rebel forces, Muammar Gaddafi has broadcast on radio calling for his loyalists to rise up against the “rats”. There has also been sporadic gunfire in various sectors of this severely damaged city: the battle has clearly been won, but the war is not yet over and the level of devastation and death remains to be fully assessed.

A pro-Gaddafi news channel also reported that the Libyan dictator has vowed “martyrdom or victory” although this now seems contradicted by an apparent willingness to negotiate. But death certainly seems to await Gaddafi, if any of the many rebel forces finally flushes him out. This is despite pledges by the rebel leadership that Gaddafi will, hopefully, be captured and put on trial.

A trial is the last thing on the minds of most of the insurgents I spoke to, whether in Benghazi, Misrata or Tripoli. Since the start of the insurgency in April, solemn vows have been taken in this quite intensely religious country, to “cut to pieces” Gaddafi, if and when he is apprehended.

As the NATO bombing intensified, I saw groups of insurgents, their hands pressed to a Koran, taking an oath that if ever Gaddafi survived the bombing, they would kill him with their bare hands. However, Gaddafi is still nowhere to be found and on Wednesday last week, the rebels offered amnesty to any of Gaddafi’s supporters who killed or captured the man who has ruled Libya for 42 years.

By then, the huge and heavily fortified compound of the “supreme leader” at Bab al Azizeya was also over-run. The assault on the compound was made by an elite group of fighters who were trained and equipped by the 100 or so “foreign advisers” who have been in the country for months. They are drawn from the special forces of Britain, France, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Controversially, and something that may cause some diplomatic repercussions, especially in Africa, some of these advisers accompanied the rebels into Tripoli. It is widely believed —and admitted by some French officials — that the advisers also helped to co-ordinate the rebel advance with the NATO bombing. Although it is not confirmed, there are reports that foreign advisers were with the fighters who stormed Bab al Azizeya.

The compound appeared empty, and a search is still continuing because it houses a network of tunnels. If Gaddafi and his immediate entourage were inside at the time of the final rebel assault, they could have escaped through these.

At least one of the tunnels leads to the sea, while another is said to extend into the western desert, making for ready access to Algeria where President Abdelaziz Bouteflika remains a supporter of Gaddafi. However, most speculation about where the “supreme leader” may be, centres on his now heavily bombed home town of Sirte

But nobody is discounting rumours that he may still be hiding in one of the many “safe houses” he is known to have maintained within Tripoli. There is also speculation that Gaddafi may be in one of the areas, especially the coastal town of Zuwara, where forces loyal to him are continuing to fight. However, it seems more likely that the forces inside this once sleepy seaside hamlet are mercenaries recruited from other African states who have their backs to the sea. They would be acutely aware that they can expect little mercy should they be captured.

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