Misrata Reprieved

The city of Misrata, a port and steel-making city and Libya’s third-largest urban center, was sentenced to death 7 weeks ago by the Qaddafi family, which sent its armored brigades and professional snipers in to punish the entire population for having dared throw off their fascist rule by ‘revolutionary committee.’

For seven weeks, the some 400,000 people of Misrata city (there are nearly 600,000 in the province of that name) were subjected by Qaddafi brigades to tank fire, to artillery fire, to mortar fire, and to sniper fire, in a vicious, indiscriminate manner that constituted serial crimes against humanity. Hundreds have been killed, some say over a thousand, and wounded are probably three times fatalities.

On April 7, Qaddafi’s forces made a drive into the downtown area, taking it from the city’s defenders and pushing them to the port area as their last bastion of hope.

For now, the brave fighters of Free Libya have rallied to push the Qaddafi brigades out of their city, taking the tall buildings along Tripoli Street downtown away from the snipers, one by one. UNSC-authorized NATO attacks on Qaddafi’s tanks and GRAD missile launchers (and more recently a US drone strike on such a rocket emplacement) gradually sapped the strength from the brutal attackers even as aid ships brought desperately needed food and supplies to the Free Libya forces.

I call them “Free Libya forces” because that is what they call themselves, on Benghazi radio. The Benghazi Transitional National Council has been recognized as the legitimate government of Libya by France, Italy and Qatar, with more governments near to taking this step. They are not mere ‘rebels’ any more. They control major urban centers– Tobruk, Dirna, Baida, Benghazi, Misrata and Zintan as well as some of the rural areas– probably in all the population supporting the TNC is at least half the country. If we count populations laboring unwillingly under Qaddafi’s rule, it is a clear majority.

Agence France Press reports that the Qaddafi brigades have been forced to withdraw to the western suburbs of Misrata. On Monday they retained the ability to rain mortar shells onto the city in their wonted indiscriminate way, killing nearly a dozen people. But for the moment, the city has been reprieved from its death sentence. People are no longer pinned down, afraid of the snipers. For the moment the danger has receded, of the city being simply crushed under Qaddafi’s jackboot.

Captured loyalists and mercenaries revealed to AFP that morale is extremely low among the Qaddafi brigades at Misrata, and that they might have surrendered some time ago if they had not been afraid of being summarily executed by the Free Libya forces in the city. The Free Libya commanders need to do a better job of advertising, and demonstrating, that they will treat surrendering soldiers decently.

Aljazeera Arabic reports ominous rumors that one of Qaddafi’s sons, Saadi, is preparing to lead a brigade loyal to him against Misrata, reopening the front against the largest Western city to still resist Qaddafi’s sinister embrace.

Qaddafi’s hold on the west is precarious. His forces are being actively fought by the Berbers of the Western Mountain region, centered at Zintan. There is reportedly a strong underground resistance against him in Zawiya, which his tanks crushed in March in what was almost certainly a massacre. On Monday, the youth of the Duraibi quarter of Tripoli defied the dictator by releasing flocks of doves to signal their support of the Free Libya government based in Benghazi, according to Facebook and Twitter announcements.

It is to be hoped that the doves, a symbol of peace, are harbingers of things to come in Libya. In the meantime, we must be grateful for small, provisional victories by Free Libya against the dictator, and Misrata’s liberation surely counts as a major such moment. And, it is a vindication of the UNSC decision to call for outside intervention. Without that step, Misrata by now would have been crushed, and the Free Libya leaders and known supporters would be being dragged off to dark places for torture and summary execution.

Aljazeera English reports on the sad condition of Misrata in the wake of the Qaddafi brigades’ withdrawal:

For the resistance to Qaddafi in the Berber Western Mountain region, see this excellent report by Aljazeera English, filmed at great risk:

18 Responses

  1. Juan,
    It looks like Qaddafi only pulled out his troops and left the town to the “tribes”… nominally civilians under the UN resolution, but loyal to him, to do the fighting. I’m sorry, but I think this whole Libyan business is a farce… it has got “mission creep” written all over it and when and if (big if) Qaddafi or his boys ever leave “we” will be left holding a bag whose contents are unknown.

    • The rebels are getting stronger by the day, while Qadhafi is running out of resources by the day. There is no evidence of large number of civilians fighting for Qadhafi. He is not popular (to say the least).

    • We know what’s in the bag.
      It’s oil, 600,000,000 barrels a year.
      60 billion dollars retail a year.

  2. “by the Berbers of the Western Mountain region, centered at Zintan.”

    If you’re going to bring up ethnicities you should state that Zintan is an Arab city and not a Berber one. Though to be fair to you apart from Gherian it is the only Arab City/town in the western mountains.

    • @SDFS, Berbers dislike to be called “berber”.

      Pls. use their proper term which is “Amazigh”.

      • @ Mazlum :

        Please Direct that response to Juan Cole as I was quoting him, if you hadn’t noticed ;).

        As for your opinion I’m not so sure that it is correct as the Libyan Berber/Amazigh refer to themselves as either Zawaria ( from Zawara ) or Jebalia ( from the western mountains ) ….. Amazigh, from what I know, is more of an Algerian Moroccan import than a local Libyan word .

  3. I am somewhat heartened by Juan’s positive, big-picture view of what has been accomplished in Misrata. However, reports on CNN from Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times of London paints a devestating picture of what has happened in the last three days. On Sunday alone one hospital reported 16 dead and 71 seriously wounded. Colvin says that Monday was even worse.

    How can NATO ignore heavy artillary shelling a population center for several days? The argument that NATO wishes to avoid civilian casualties doesn’t flush, they are trading the possibility of casualties for a certainty of carnage.

    NATO is not as concerned about civilian casualties as it is about being avoiding direct blame for casualities. The humanitarian rationale for this war is being eroded, they are getting away with it because of the reduced media coverage.

    • “It is to be hoped that the doves, a symbol of peace, are harbingers of things to come in Libya.”

      With all do respect Juan, I disagree. I respect your general optimism, but I feel as though you have not taken a real look at what is currently happening in Libya. Granted, we’ve seen a few improvements. However, Qaddafi is far from being removed. Within the last few days, there have been recent bombings that have left several dead and many others wounded. I appreciate the idealistic view you take with the article, because it would only be so easy to suggest a solution to the problem. Without any of these solutions making an effective set back with the armed forces, we will have to continue to look at the situation from all sides- not just the hopeful one.

      • I’m a little puzzled by your response. All I did was express a wish. I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Reality will unfold as it will. I am glad that Misrata hasn’t fallen so far; I don’t make predictions for the near term. In the medium term, I do think Libyans will be better off, if they can shake the Qaddafi leeches off.

    • After what the StopWar crowds did to NATO and the west in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is quite understandable why NATO is so gun shy.

      Even today the StopWar theory is that Libya is being bombed so west can syphon the oil – and they are not being countered on this. Why would NATO risk much under these circumstances?

  4. What is quite amazing is that US “warmongers” re Iraq and Afghanistan, like McCain are for the action vs Gadaffi that would bring to power an Islamic, perhaps radical, regime in Libya. I have to think McCain and his type simply like war wherever and whenever, whatever the result.

    • There is absolutely no basis for the claim that “islamists” ( I despise that term) have now or will have any sway in the future of Libya. Qazaffi is ideologically opposed to “radical Islam” and the Libyan population is, by and large Muslim in the true sense of the word and thus will have nothing to do with any group that will attempt to use Islamic scripture to do un-Islamic things (like killing innocents, oppressing people etc)

      • @Yusuf – What about imposing religious law on society? What about terminating secularism in Libya? Ending separation of Mosque and State? Never accepting freedom of and from religion?

        Those Muslim activists who wish to do above politically and by force – what should they be called if not “Islamist”?

        How come Muslim activists never talk about Islamic law in the constitution or separation of Mosque and State?

  5. Qaddafi, or whoever is directing the troops must have a good conception of the situation and offer a determinant ‘command’ which would clarify and carry the actions of the troops/military.

  6. It’s ironic that at the end of that last AlJazeera video “Free Doom” is written on the wall.

  7. where can I get some details on what’s happening in Libya, such as, is NATO carrying out air srikes, and if so how many, how often etc? Why aren’t they bombing the artillery that’s shelling Misrata? Is anyone training/arming the rebels, is there any chance they will develop a more potent military? Where are the supplies I’ve heard are reaching Misrata now, coming from?

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