Our informant in Tripoli, last I heard, was at home, terrified, trying her best to remain calm amid the sound of heavy gunfire.
Tripoli is very hotly contested. Reports suggest eastern Libya, meanwhile, has become an anarchist’s paradise. Benghazi, Tobruk, al-Bayda and smaller towns and villages are in the hands of the people and revolutionary soldiers. Committees have been formed for neighbourhood protection, rubbish collection and traffic direction. The mood is peaceful, triumphant and fearless. Two war planes have been landed in Benghazi by pilots who refuse to bomb the people. Another crashed outside the city after its pilots parachuted out. Today the city of Misurata, in the west, has also been liberated.
Qaddafi’s regime has already collapsed. The army in Misurata, and in the Jebel al-Akhdar region, has joined the people. A statement by high-ranking officers asks all military personnel to head to Tripoli to remove Qaddafi. The Interior Minister and the Justice Minister have resigned, as have many diplomats. All prominent Libyan tribal and religious leaders have backed the revolution. At least a quarter of the country’s oil output has halted; a tribal leader in the east threatened to stop supplies to Europe if Qaddafi continued to kill – and indeed the pipeline to Italy is now dry.
Yet the tyrant still commands the loyalty of the savage special forces units set up by his sons Khamees and Mu’tasim, as well as an unknown number of foreign mercenaries. His retreat into megalomania is total, and he intends to destroy as much as he possibly can in his last hours or days. His son Saif-ul-Islam, previously considered the regime’s ‘reformist’, informed viewers on state TV that Qaddafi would fight “to the last man, even the last woman, and the last bullet.” In his rambling, screaming, Hitlerian, hour-and-a-half rant yesterday, Qaddafi described the revolutionaries, the overwhelming majority of the Libyan people, as cockroaches, rats, cats and mice; as drugged children and teenagers on alcohol and hallucinogens; as servants of Italy, Britain, America and Israel; as Islamists and separatists. Then he promised to burn ‘the green and the dry’ (an Arabic expression which means to destroy absolutely everything), and to ‘cleanse Libya house by house’. He said he hadn’t even got started yet.
At least a thousand people have been murdered so far, by planes, tanks, machine guns and heavy artillery. Many of the corpses are so totally dismembered they can’t be put together, let alone identified. Many have been burnt, including 150 charred lumps discovered in an abandoned garrison in Benghazi, apparently the remains of soldiers who refused to slaughter their compatriots.
This, once again, is a genuine popular revolution. But this time the revolutionaries have not been protected by TV cameras. They have faced the most extreme, Israeli-style violence from the first day. Yet, with their incredible courage and readiness for self-sacrifice, the people are winning. How sad, then, that some – those who judge by rhetorical flourishes rather than by deeds – are missing the significance of the moment. Daniel Ortega for instance, the leader of Nicaragua’s Sandinistas, has shamed himself by expressing support for the tyrant. Fidel Castro said that NATO is about to occupy Libya, and failed to mention Qaddafi’s atrocities.
NATO is in no position to occupy Libya – because Libya and the Arab world is deep in a revolutionary phase which will sweep away occupiers as easily as tyrants, because NATO is trapped in Afghanistan, and because the Western economy is precarious.
Former British foreign minister David Owen said this:
The UN Security Council should meet in emergency session tonight and declare the situation in Libya as a threat to peace under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter and declare a no flight zone for the Libyan airforce and ask the regional power, Nato, to enforce it from dawn tomorrow.
A no-fly zone doesn’t mean foreign soldiers on Libyan soil. It means that Qaddafi would be unable to import more foreign soldiers (there are unconfirmed reports of planeloads of west African mercenaries arriving ‘continuously’ in airfields outside Tripoli), and that fighter pilots loyal to Qaddafi would be unable to murder civilians. Were the idea to be taken up, I would agree with the no-fly zone – so long as it ends the moment Qaddafi falls. I would hope that the Egyptian and Tunisian militaries, and perhaps Qatar – which has made a strong statement in support of Libya – would demand to be involved, if only symbolically.
It’s a matter of time for this psychopath. He’s chosen his fate. I expect an iconic photograph of Qaddafi and his sons to enter history, rather like the famous photograph of Mussolini in 1945.