Libya tipping into civil war?

Protesters, apparently joined by members of the security forces, seized control over several eastern Libyan cities and towns Feb. 21, including Benghazi, al-Bayda and Durna. The cities were the scene of fierce fighting over the weekend, with protesters forming militias, evidently with the aid of defecting members of the security forces. The regime is reportedly resorting to “mercenaries” from African countries to beat back the militias. Fighting has now spread to the capital, Tripoli, where helicopters and warplanes are reportedly firing from the air on protesters. State TV headquarters, the Interior Ministry building and the offices of the “People’s Committees” that are the pillar of the regime were torched by the Tripoli protesters. The whereabouts of strongman Moammar Qaddafi are not known.

Regime threatens “rivers of blood”
The strongman’s son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, went on state TV to rally the regime’s supporters: “Our spirits are high and the leader, Moammar Qaddafi, is leading the battle in Tripoli and we are behind him, as is the Libyan army. We will keep fighting until the last man standing, even to the last woman standing…” He implicitly stated that the protesters are the tools of foreign intrigue: “We will not leave Libya to the Italians or to the Turks… Our spirits are high.”

Invoking the overthrown Tunisian and Egyptian leaders, he added: “Moammar Qaddafi is not Zine al-Abidine or Mubarak… There are tens of thousands of Libyans who are flocking to Tripoli from all over Libya to defend Tripoli, Libya and Moammar Qaddafi… [T]here are buses on all coastal roads coming from all Libyan cities.”

Against evidence, he insisted the army is still loyal: “The army is still well and capable. The army now will play a key role to enforce security and restore things back to order… A firm stance is required. The Libyan army is not the Egyptian or the Tunisian army.”

He also warned that the country is fragmenting, and raised the specter of Islamic fundamentalism: “There are groups that have formed a government in Benghazi and groups that have set up an Islamic emirate in al-Bayda…and another person who declared himself to be the ruler of the Islamic Republic of Durna. They now want to transform Libya into a group of emiratesā€”small statesā€”and even [cause] separatism. They have a plot.”

“[R]ivers of blood will run through Libya… We will take up arms… we will fight to the last bullet. We will destroy seditious elements. If everybody is armed, it is civil war, we will kill each other… Libya is not Egypt, it is not Tunisia.”

Pilots, diplomats defect
UN chief Ban Ki-moon reportedly spoke directly to Moammar Qaddafi by phone and told him the violence “must stop immediately.” In Brussels, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Qaddafi may be heading to Venezuela, citing “information that suggests he is on his way.” The claim was quickly denied by Caracas. US President Barack Obama said he is “considering all appropriate actions” on Libya.

Two Libyan jet fighters landed in Malta, with the pilots saying they defected because they were ordered to dive-bomb protesters, and will seek political asylum. Italy has put all military air bases on maximum alert.

Libya’s justice minister, Mustapha Abdeljalil, resigned in objection to “the excessive use of force” against demonstrators. In Cairo, Libya’s Arab League envoy said he had resigned to “join the revolution.” Libya’s envoy in New Delhi and a diplomat in Beijing have also resigned. (Middle East Online, NYT, The Guardian, Feb. 21)

Tribal leaders threaten oil interests
The head of al-Zuwayya tribe, with its stronghold south of Benghazi, told AlJazeera that oil supplies would be cut in 24 hours if the regime did not stop the “oppression of protesters.”

Tribal rivalries are evident within the armed forces, where Qaddafi’s own tribe, the Qadhadfa, are pitted against the Magarihaā€”tribe of accused Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi. This is in turn close to the Warfalla tribe, said to number one million people. Also allied with the Warfalla are the Zintan who hail from the town of of that name, 75 miles south of Tripoliā€”one of the first towns in western Libya to join the present revolt. (The Hindu, BBC News, Reuters, Feb. 21)

See our last posts on Libya and the new Middle East revolutions.

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