Who controls Tripoli?

Media reports from Tripoli are sketchy and contradictory, but it is clear that heavy fighting continues in the city. The only working hospital in the Libyan capital has been overwhelmed with casualties. NATO is air-dropping leaflets urging the Qaddafi regime’s defenders to lay down arms. The presidential palace was reported to have been torched by rebels. However, Saif al-Islam, son of Moammar Qaddafi, earlier reported to have been captured by the rebels, made a public appearance at Tripoli’s Rixos Hotel, where foreign journalists stay. “I am here to refute the lies,” Saif al-Islam said. “We broke the back of the rebels. It was a trap. We gave them a hard time, so we are winning.” Television footage showed him pumping his fists, smiling, waving and shaking hands with supporters, and holding his arms aloft with each hand making the V-for-victory sign. Qaddafi’s eldest son, Mohammad, who was also reportedly detained by rebels, is now reported to have escaped.

Three other Qaddafi sons—Hannibal, Mutasim and Khamis—have apparently not been located. Khamis headed a feared army unit that took a leading role in suppressing protests. Mutasim was an army officer and a security adviser to the elder Qaddafi. Some reports indicated Mutasim is gathering forces for a counter-attack on the rebels. Abdullah al-Senussi, Qaddafi’s longtime intelligence chief and brother-in-law, also seems to have eluded the rebels. He was last seen at the Rixos Hotel two days ago, where he told foreign journalists that “Western intelligence” is “working alongside al-Qaeda to destroy Libya.”

Col. Qaddafi himself is also whereabouts unknown, with some reports indicating he has sought refuge in Zimbabwe or Angola. A spokesman for his government, Musa Ibrahim, said on TV from Tripoli that over 1,300 had been killed in past 24 hours by NATO bombardment of the city. The TV station seems to remain in pro-Qaddafi hands. At least one Libyan embassy overseas—that in Brasilia—has taken down the Qaddafi-era green flag and replaced it with the revolutionary red, black, and green flag.

In Benghazi, National Transitional Council (NTC) President Mustafa Abdel Jalil went on TV to announce that “the Qaddafi era is over.” He said he hoped Qaddafi would be “captured alive so that he will be given a fair trial.” He congratulated the Libyan people “for this historic victory” and thanked NATO for its military support. But he cautioned that “the real moment of victory is when Gathafi is captured.” (Feb23.info, AlJazeera, South Asian News Agency, Aug. 23; Middle East Online, Aug. 22)

China meanwhile expressed concerns that its oil investments in Libya will be honored by the new regime. “China’s investment in Libya, especially its oil investment, is one aspect of mutual economic cooperation between China and Libya, and this cooperation is in the mutual interest of both the people of China and Libya,” the deputy head of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce trade department, Wen Zhongliang, told a press conference. Wen was answering a question about a comment by an official at the Libyan rebel oil company, AGOCO, who said that Russian and Chinese firms may lose out on oil contracts for failing to support the rebellion. Libya supplied 3% of China’s imported crude oil last year. (Reuters, Aug. 23)

The Arabian Gulf Oil Company (AGOCO) was the Benghazi branch of Libya’s National Oil Company (NOC). AGOCO broke from the NOC when Benghazi broke away from Tripoli in March. Before the war broke out, AGOCO accounted for some 40% of Libya’s output of around 1.6 million barrels per day. AGOCO has remained under official US sanctions even as the NTC has sought to market oil abroad to purchase arms. (Platts, March 23)

See our last posts on Libya and the global struggle for control of oil.

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