Four days after Libyan rebels swept into Tripoli, Gaddafi loyalists are still putting up fierce resistance in several parts of the city. The rebels assaulted a pro-Gaddafi neighborhood on Thursday, while an attack against an apartment complex in the Abu Salim district, to which pro-Gaddafi fighters are said to have escaped from the nearby former Gaddafi family compound, is continuing.
“Four days into the battle, nothing is certain in Tripoli,” writes al-Jazeera.
In other parts of the city, rebels are going house-to-house, looking for the former Libyan leader, since their victory is incomplete without Gaddafi’s death or capture, after which resistance is expected to collapse. To hurry up the process, Libyan businessmen in Benghazi, the rebel stronghold, have offered a $1.7 million cash reward for Gaddafi’s death or capture.
Newspapers published stories that Gaddafi could be in the Abu Salim complex, accounting for the fierce fighting there. But these reports may be part of a disinformation campaign to lower his troops’ morale, much like the falsely reported capture of Seif Gaddafi a few days ago. But if Gaddafi is in the Abu Salim complex, expect him and his men to fight their way out rather than surrender, if their situation becomes untenable.
“This is not over yet,” said Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, referring to the pro-Gaddafi support remaining in the country. “There are huge numbers of weapons out there and some thousands of forces are continuing to fight for a regime that is finished.”
It was estimated that 20,000 Libyans had died in the conflict before the attack on Tripoli. Fighting at close quarters in the capital’s close confines has brought about the expected additional “hundreds of wounded fighters and civilians.” Reports have also now come in of massacres committed by both sides. Fifteen prisoners, possibly political activists held at the Gaddafi compound, were reported shot, while about 30 captured pro-Gaddafi soldiers were found murdered.
The Libyan people, numbering about six million, have been traumatized by the conflict, in which, like many civil wars, only a small number have participated. This is indicated by the size of the rebel force fighting in Tripoli, a city of about two million. It is estimated to be only 4,000 strong, while the number of pro-Gaddafi fighters is unknown.
Libya’s infrastructure is so badly damaged from the violence that countries, including the United States, are pledging tens of millions of dollars to the rebuilding effort. While humanitarian in nature, these pledges can also be viewed as an attempt to curry favour with the rebels’ Transitional National Council (TNC) for oil exploration deals that are expected to be made once the fighting dies down, and for the guaranteeing of existing contracts.
But even with the defeat of Gaddafi’s regular forces in Tripoli and elsewhere, the Libyan people’s sufferings are most likely far from over. If Gaddafi escapes death or capture, the former Libyan dictator will simply go underground and launch a guerrilla war against the TNC, much like Saddam Hussein did after his downfall in Iraq. Assassinations and car bombings will then become the order of the day. The guerrilla war has probably already started, since some Gaddafi soldiers have likley already donned civilian clothes in order to foment resistance and conduct operations behind rebel lines in Tripoli.
Perhaps even worse for Libyan civilians, Gaddafi has a supply of mustard gas. A U.S. State Department spokeswoman, however, said “it was monitoring the sites where the stockpiles are held” and believes they are “secure.” Hopefully, she is right. In his latest tape, released on Syrian television, Gaddafi told his supporters, or the “sweeping majority,” as he called them, to “destroy” the rebel “rats.” He also asked women and children to “purify” Tripoli. With his mental health always a subject of speculation, one has to be very concerned that Gaddafi has access to poison gas, especially when he is talking about purifying a city and annihilating an enemy.
Many analysts expect the TNC to eventually implode along tribal and/or ethnic lines. This is now Gaddafi’s main hope. Taking advantage of the fractionalization, he will build new alliances with disgruntled elements in the hope that he or one of his sons can make a political comeback several months down the road. Of course, if this does occur, it will only happen after more violence and killing – and if he lives long enough.
The Islamists will also attempt to take advantage of the expected turmoil. They were always strong in western Libya, where the rebellion has its greatest support, and have fought among the ranks of the rebels. While persecuted by Gaddafi, they now see in his ouster the opportunity, like in other Muslim states in this “Arab Spring,” to establish an Islamic state.
The winners in the Libyan war are thought to be the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries of Great Britain, France, Italy and the United States who, along with Qatar, will now have preferred access to future oil exploration deals in Libya, thanks to their support of the TNC. Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa. The oil it produces is also of a highly sought-after variety, called “sweet crude,” that is refined into gasoline.
“But what BP, Total, Exxon Mobil and the Qatar oil company really want is serious involvement in new fields,” writes a columnist in the Asia Times. “They want the full bonanza they didn’t get in Iraq – where some of the juiciest contracts went to Russian, Chinese or Malaysian players.”
But in order to get this preferred access, Gaddafi had to be removed. Always a difficult person to deal with, these NATO countries believed he was going to cut them out of future oil exploration deals in favor of China and India. As a result, they had to make a regime change in Libya, if that oil, on which their economies depend, was to be secured. It is obvious to everyone by now that NATO has far exceeded United Nations Resolution 1973 that allowed it to establish a no-fly zone over Libya and has sought instead to overthrow Gaddafi. NATO warplanes have repeatedly tried to kill the Libyan leader, and even now British SAS troops are hunting for Gaddafi in Tripoli. Protecting Libyan civilians, NATO’s proclaimed aim, was never its real reason for its involvement in this conflict.
NATO’s disingenuousness, however, stands a good chance of backfiring. China could offer large sums of money to the TNC for rebuilding Libya to make up for its lack of support for the rebels and as a means to get into the Libyan oil fields. The NATO-assisted destruction and instability the war has caused is so extensive, Libya may remain destabilized for years to come. The Islamists will also add to any chaos with terrorist attacks and other acts of violence.
A peace-keeping force will now be needed to help restore order in Libya; but it is unlikely it will succeed. Like in Afghanistan, civil conflict in Libya may become endemic, so endemic that the oil supply NATO went to so much trouble to secure may become endangered, much like Egypt’s natural gas pipeline to Israel across the Sinai. In the end, Libya may be another Humpty Dumpty no one will ever be able to put together.