Qaddafi threatens to Join al-Qaeda as his Forces advance on Rebel Strongholds

As the world watches Japan, transfixed by the aftermath of a massive tsunami that has probably killed over 10,000 and left half a million homeless, attended by a crisis in a series of nuclear reactors, on the other side of the world the forces of Muammar Qaddafi are advancing on rebel cities, reducing them one after the other with unrestrained aerial bombardment and artillery barrages, as Qaddafi himself threatens to ally with Usama Bin Laden if he is thwarted in his reconquista.

Qaddafi, defiant, told the Milan-based Il Giornale, that he would crush the rebels. “Their cause is lost. They only have two possibilities: to surrender or to flee,” he said. He expressed extreme disappointment in Western European leaders who had come out against his rule. France has recognized the provisional government in Benghazi, David Cameron of Britain has argued for a European-imposed no-fly zone, and even Qaddafi’s old crony Silvio Berlusconi of Italy has turned on him. Qaddafi lamented the banquet of friendship he had thrown for Berlusconi.

Asked if he doesn’t fear Saddam Hussein’s fate, Qaddafi said that if NATO tried to invade Libya and overthrow him, he would leave the international alliance against terrorism and join al-Qaeda in a holy war against the West.

In Libya, Muammar Qaddafi’s military is launching three major attacks against rebels. In the far west near the Tunisian border, they are subjecting Zuara to intensive bombing in hopes of clearing the last rebel stronghold along the Mediterranean to Tripoli’s west.

Fierce see-saw fighting is going on in Brega (Marsa al-Buraiqa), an important oil facilities town.

Qaddafi’s air force is strafing Brega and Adjabiya to its north intensively, giving cover to advancing troops and armor, who have reached the western gate of Ajdabiya. Adjabiya is the last major rebel position before the city of Benghazi, the country’s second metropolis that has been the heart and soul of the rebel movement.

The rebel movement is clearly out-gunned and out-maneuvered, and somehow in the past few days the Tripoli regime has found its footing, proving able to plan and implement a reconquest of the country, after having been ineffectual in the previous two weeks in facing the rebel challenge.

This change suggests to me that the officer corps in Libya finally decided to coalesce around Qaddafi, after some weeks in which its loyalties were undecided.

Qaddafi’s fear of outside interference or consequences from the West also probably declined as it became clear that the Obama administration was forbidding British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy from intervening militarily.

In most world forums, the more hawkish Cameron-Sarkozy stance has been blocked. At the G-8, Germany has just opposed a unanimous resolution in favor of a no-fly zone. Japan also correctly raised the point that the G-8 is not the proper arena in which such a decision should be made, but that rather it should be decided by the United Nations Security Council. Russia, a G-8 observer, also objected. (Since the G-8 is just the 8 most prosperous industrial economies, it is an arbitrary body and Japan is right that mere prosperity lends no legitimacy or authority, such that it should supplant the UNO).

Washington, for its part, was reportedly suspicious of the character of the Libyan protest movement, fearing that Qaddafi was right to describe it as heavily Muslim fundamentalist in character. Having a victorious such government in Libya might in turn have affected the outcomes of the new political processes in Tunisia and Egypt, given Libya’s oil wealth and resources. While the Benghazi provisional government is made up of political unknowns, however, the discourse deployed by the rebels has tended to be nationalist and tribal, and does not resemble that of e.g. al-Qaeda. Washington appears to have decided it slightly preferred the devil it knew, and that may well be what it gets– though now a wounded devil talking crazily about global jihad against the West if things don’t go his way.

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PS Peter Bouckaert submitted this as a comment but I am moving it up to the text:

‘ I am just back from Eastern Libya, and have had extensive contacts with the transitional authorities in Benghazi, was on the phone with them this morning. Having visited the eastern cities of Benghazi, al-Baida, Dernah, Tobruk, al-Bregah, Ras Lanoof, and Ajdabiya, I certainly didn’t see any AQ influence among the authorities or among the rebels. Al-Baida and Dernah in particular have been home to strong Salafist movements (and have been subjected to bombing campaigns by Qaddafi to suppress them), but this salafism is more inward-looking and seems to be an expression of opposition to the regime, not the kind of internationalist salafism associated with AQ. And even most Islamists I met were in favor of Western intervention, remarkably. Like in Egypt, the religious fundamentalist danger is vastly overstated and used as a scare tactic by Qaddafi.

I got to know more than half of the members of the Benghazi-based council, and they impressed me with their secular and modernist outlook. Most are academics, lawyers, and activists, and clearly dedicated to bringing Libya into the modern world.

The rebel movement is indeed badly organized, but this is for a simple reason: it exists mostly out of young volunteers, protesters turned fighters, who have no military experience and are holding a gun for the first time in their lives. They cannot hold back a desert offensive by an army with tanks, artillery, and war planes–their weapons don’t even have the required reach or power. But that doesn’t mean that Benghazi, al-Baida, or Dernah will fall as easily. Urban fighting is very different from a series of desert battles, and the advantages of heavy weapons are diminished. It could get a lot bloodier.

Peter Bouckaert
Emergencies Director, Human Rights Watch ‘

28 Responses

  1. It is amazing that in Bahrain we do have a real mass movement for civil society and democratic process and again US and its allies in the region are at work to crush it. The contrast of US position between Libya and Bahrain is going to have further ramification for future foreign policies of US in the middle east.

    On one hand US/Europe are in UN trying to tightening the noose around Qaddafi while at the same time they have given its tacit approval of the Saudi intervention in Bahrain (which of course is at the request of US alley the despotic king). Qaddafi, as crazy as he has been, is fighting an armed opposition in his own country. Bahrain is using Saudi military to fight against unarmed civilians…. and there are no talk of sanction against either Saudi or Bahrain!

    With every passing day US is losing its soft power. I am amazed at the incompetence and short sighted policies of Obama/Clinton team.

  2. I am just back from Eastern Libya, and have had extensive contacts with the transitional authorities in Benghazi, was on the phone with them this morning. Having visited the eastern cities of Benghazi, al-Baida, Dernah, Tobruk, al-Bregah, Ras Lanoof, and Ajdabiya, I certainly didn’t see any AQ influence among the authorities or among the rebels. Al-Baida and Dernah in particular have been home to strong Salafist movements (and have been subjected to bombing campaigns by Qaddafi to suppress them), but this salafism is more inward-looking and seems to be an expression of opposition to the regime, not the kind of internationalist salafism associated with AQ. And even most Islamists I met were in favor of Western intervention, remarkably. Like in Egypt, the religious fundamentalist danger is vastly overstated and used as a scare tactic by Qaddafi.

    I got to know more than half of the members of the Benghazi-based council, and they impressed me with their secular and modernist outlook. Most are academics, lawyers, and activists, and clearly dedicated to bringing Libya into the modern world.

    The rebel movement is indeed badly organized, but this is for a simple reason: it exists mostly out of young volunteers, protesters turned fighters, who have no military experience and are holding a gun for the first time in their lives. They cannot hold back a desert offensive by an army with tanks, artillery, and war planes–their weapons don’t even have the required reach or power. But that doesn’t mean that Benghazi, al-Baida, or Dernah will fall as easily. Urban fighting is very different from a series of desert battles, and the advantages of heavy weapons are diminished. It could get a lot bloodier.

    Peter Bouckaert
    Emergencies Director, Human Rights Watch

  3. Juan Cole writes off the Benghazi militants. Good riddance to them.

    The Libyan people made progress against Qaddafi by way of politics and patience. When they picked up the gun the made the fatal error.

    Qaddafi will hunt the militants down like dogs and kill as many as he can get his hands on.

    Benghazi itself may become too much a cauldron for Qaddafi’s small forces to overcome. A long battle for Benghazi might be fatal for Qaddafi as was the rush to Tripoli fatal to the rebels. Neither has the force to win outright and neither has the brains to escape onrushing mutual ruin.

    The militants need to abandon the Kalashnikov and take up the peaceful protest.

    • Steve, I think you forget that the armed rebellion didn’t break out until AFTER the government used open military force against the protestors.

      The people did not take up arms against the government, but the other way around. Like in the English revolution, it was the ruler, not the rebels, who started the civil war.

    • The militants took up arms because they knew too well that Gazzafi is a ruthless maniac who will never relinquish power. Actually this fiasco does have one good element in that it has completely stripped away the false fronts of “the state of the masses”, that Gazzafi is not the dictator and keystone of the Libyan government, and that his people actually tolerate his nonsense. The awful part will be the reprisals by his goons and the paranoia the Libyan state will display. Watch for a new diaspora of Libyan dissidents to emerge in Egypt, Tunisia, and the United States.

  4. There is an elephant in the room and it is this: All the worry about Muslims taking control of their own oil isn’t really about them turning against the West, but a racist belief that Muslims can’t handle the technology. That’s why we oppose Iran’s quest for nuclear power but overlook Japan’s safety shortfalls.

    I hope someone raises that issue. Is there opposition to Muslims acquiring technology that is coming from evangelical Christians who, incidentally, believe they will fly up to heaven when Jesus says so?

    • What is the evidence to support your claim that the West opposes Iran’s quest for nuclear capability because of a “racist belief that Muslims can’t handle the technology”? This is as far-fetched a statement on the Iranian nuclear issue as I have heard lately. Regarding your claim that the West harbors “racist” doubts about Muslims’ ability to handle the technology, I offer the following.

      A. You are confusing race with religion. Even if there were a bias against Muslims, it would be no more “racist” than a bias against Christians, Buddhist, Hindus, or any other religion.

      B. I think Pakistan is a good example that belies your claim that the West does not think Muslims can handle the technology. Pakistan clearly can and does handle the technology, and it is so recognized by the West. In fact, the West’s main concern is that the Pakistani Government continue to maintain strict security of their nuclear facilities.

        • Yusuf, using your logic, would you agree, then, that Saudi Arabia,(which forbids the practice of Christianity) and Pakistan, Egypt, and other Muslim countries (that have populations heavily biased against Christianity) are all racist against:

          A. The majority of Europeans who are, to a greater or lesser degree, Christian?

          B. The roughly 50 percent of Nigerians who are Christian?

          C. The estimated 30 percent of South Koreans who are Christian?

          D. The entire South American continent, including indigenous Indians, who are Christian?

          In other words, are you suggesting that the majority of Saudis, Egyptians, Pakistanis, and others who display a greater or lesser bias against Christianity are actually demonstrating an indication of racism against Europeans, Nigerians and other Sub-Saharan Africans, Koreans, and South Americans, including Maya, Guarani, and other indigenous populations, who practice Christianity?

  5. But wait — what about Qaddafi’s claim that the rebels based in Benghazi are really acting on behalf of Al-Qaeda? So if Qaddafi joins forces with Al-Qaeda, does that mean he is rallying to the same cause as his opposition? What has Colonel Q. been putting into his morning Nescafé?

    In Libya, history is being played as both tragedy and farce at the same time. The farce may be surreal, but the bloodshed and the destruction are real enough. And aside from scattered boos and applause from a safe distance, the world seems content to sit back and watch to see how it’ll play out.

  6. Prof. Cole I believe the unfolding events bring to mind the 1956 Canal Suez crisis. An Anglo-French alliance/plan that did not succeed thanks or because of the US stance…

  7. I’m disgusted that the world is doing nothing to help the rebels–doubly disgusted with the Obama Administration for sitting on their hands, when there is a chance of getting rid of this guy and his sons.

  8. Who knows who the rebels represent? In Palestine they are called terrorists,even if they are educated and articulate like Ismael Haniyeh, and no suggestion is made to allow them to be accepted, and they were democratically elected. Why suddenly support these rebels ?(insurgents? militants? fanatics? islamists?)

  9. I notice that a ship from Latakia via Mersin bound for Alexandria was intercepted by the Israeli navy. Officially the arms on board were bound for Hamas?? But Alexandria is nearer the Libyan border than Gaza. Could it be that the supply to the “rebels” is being deliberately squeezed? I fear for the future of those protectors who have reluctantly and amateurishly have reacted to Gaddhafi’s brutality by taking up arms. A no-fly zone is not enough. These people need proper support to avoid their having their lives teased out of them by torture, which is inevitable should G. win. The UK and France are the only ones with the fire to help. The US is hopeless, Italy corrupt, and Germany milquetoast. God help us all. What is happening in Libya (and Bahrain) is pure realpolitik. I guess the lack of reaction is that we are all too well-fed and indifferent. Let’s not leave it too late…even the Arab League has said something decisive about Gaddhafi…even the Arab League. Have we no decency?

  10. I agree entirely with Steve from Virginia. I expect that the uprising will yield some benefits to the Libyan people, so that dead rebels will not have died in vain: Gaddafi is likely to accept much of the long-standing “reform” advice offered by his son, Saif.

    This may not happen, of course, but whether it does or not, further bloodshed won’t change the answer to that question. The conflict indeed could get bloodier if the rebels insist on defending Benghazi and the other coastal eastern cities. In addition, the scope of any possible amnesty deal will shrink the longer this conflict continues, and many Libyans will unnecessarily suffer even after the dust clears if Gaddafi is left with carte blanche to hunt down any and all rebels.

    Time for the rebels to call it a day, strike the best deal they can, and then push very hard for some real reforms. I may be naive, but I don’t think so: some good will come from this; reforms will be made – all without US intervention.

    • Uninformed comment, with all due respect, I think you ARE a bit naive to think that the rebels would face anything but an agonizing death if they gave up now. Gazaffi has a history of reaching beyond his borders to kill those he perceives as enemies, and he at least appears to be operating in some other form of reality. I know that people are being disappeared in Tripoli (one informed friend put the number at over 1000 people). The same friend, who is living in North America just recently received a death threat from one of Gazaffi’s goons. The solution to this conflict is to arm the rebels so they can deal with Gazaffi in a homegrown, Libyan way, and set up whatever type of government THEY want.

  11. There are reports the Qaddafi has taken enough of Ajdabiya to enable blocking the road to Benghazi. The people & fighters are having to flee to Tripoli

    link to online.wsj.com

    I think most experts predicted that the Qaddafi forces would take the Tripoli road so they could encircle Benghazi.

    Qaddafi can always be relied upon to not do what he’s expected to do, he’s a real Desert Fox.

    @Sari Reznik – One reason why Obama got elected was because he’s not a regime changing neo-con. So we’re stuck with the “better the devil you know ….” line from the Kissinger playbook.

    @Giorgio Damiani – Sarkozy & Cameron, are grand standing; Sarkozy wants to make up for the fact that his former ministers were schmoozing with Mubarak & Abidine Ben Ali’s pals as their regimes were falling; Cameron because he’s thinks he’s the Heir to Blair (or Higher than Bliar). They won’t do nothing without the US.

    Re: Suez ’56, you forgot the Israeli’s.

  12. 1. Does Libya have conscription? If so, wouldn’t there be many men in the country with a modicum of military training and discipline?

    2. Even a distant observer can tell that there has at least so far been little AQ influence among the Libyan rebels. Just look at the tactics. When AQ is involved, there are almost always some suicidal fighters in action. But I’ve yet to hear of any such among the Libyan rebels. Goodness knows that the rebels are in desperate need of some shock troops who would be willing to press home the attack at any cost.

    3. It took Qaddafi a couple of weeks to mobilize the army, confirm which units and commanders were loyal, and consolidate control of his capital. Having secured their base, they proceeded to the offensive. Qaddafi’s rhetoric may be wild, but his actions have been methodical.

    4. I regret to say that Qaddafi’s sons are proving their mettle. These men seem to be competent, they don’t need daddy looking over their shoulder, and they can keep their head in a crisis. Nor are they frivolous creatures like Gamal Mubarak or Saad Hariri.

    Relationships between Qaddafi’s sons and the officer corps of the army might be forged in this civil war that will prove valuable to them in the future, after the old man has passed. Therefore, there would be little achieved in assassinating Qaddafi pere.

  13. @uninformed comment: which planet do you live on, do you think the rebels will get a parking ticket and have to pay three months´worth of community service?

    What else could this self-righteous brutal lunatic do to lose any right to rule his country for one single extra day? He´s done all he can already and you say “go home, get butchered, boys, enough for now. Peaceful transition, you hear me?”

    That´s adding insult to injury, and in a way, even to treason. Anyone in Libya who followed foreign reactions to the revolt e.g. on Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya or the Internet must have been under the impression that the world was behind them and an unrising like theirs was legitimate and promising just as the ones in Tunisia and Egypt were.

    Now, what exactly MAKES the difference, where were they wrong where the Egytians were right? The difference was the power-crazy lunatic who ruled their country who didn´t give a shit for the lives of his people, which was what infuriated the people on the streets in the first place (e.g. that they shot at funerals in the aftermath of – yes, mostly PEACEFUL protests).

    These rebels are schoolboys, shepherds, farmers, teachers, who probably had no idea what kind of nightmare would unfold half a year ago. When Qaddafi wins, they´ll all get butchered and the world looks elsewhere. This is an absolute disgrace and we´re all guilty in a way.

  14. Dear JC

    They say Petraeus “success” in Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan was due to bribes. I’ve read, that the el-Gaddafi loyalists are on his side due to money and weapons. Are there any chance bribing them to switch sides would work?

  15. Prof. Cole, I look at the actions (or inactions) on the part of Obama/Clinton as a failure of American foreign policy. While it is understandable that Obama’s hands are tied in US Congress, I feel he has failed to 1-sufficiently threaten Quaddafi, 2-ally sufficiently with Rebels in Libya. West is the only hope left for Libyan rebels, and at this critical juncture if the west abandons them, Libyan rebels are unlikely to forget it (most of the rebels are youth,and have decades ahead to live).
    In the Bahrain situation, this is a double whammy. One would expect that the U.S President would threaten Sunny Bahrain and Saudis, in no uncertain terms, that even if US opposition cost it two major military bases, that U.S would support rebels demanding reforms.

    • Yusuf, I stand corrected. Would you agree, then, that according to your dictionary’s inclusion of “bias against religion as an indicator of racism,” it can be inferred that the majority of Saudis, Egyptians, Pakistanis, and others who display a greater or lesser bias against Christianity are actually demonstrating an indication of racism against Europeans, Nigerians and other Sub-Saharan Africans, Koreans, and South Americans, including Maya, Guarani, and other indigenous populations, who practice Christianity?

      • Well, I suppose I would have to agree that the governments, and some influential groups in those countries are acting on racist ideology.
        The qur’an speaks very eloquently on this issue, but sadly many Muslims choose to ignore it. I guess that means that Muslims are the same as anybody else, i.e. They pick and choose their scripture. To be honest, I think Judaism is the only major religion that preaches that it’s followers are superior in this world as well as the next.
        Your question is worded strangely though. To answer it as it is worded, I would say that ALL Saudi’s, Packistani’s, Americans, Peruvian’s etc who discriminate on the basis of religion are acting in a racist way. But, if you mean that these people represent a majority, I have no way of knowing that.

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