Misrata’s People under Siege

Misrata, a city of several hundred thousand people about 150 mi. east of the capital of Tripoli, is under, and for weeks has been under siege. Qaddafi’s strategy is to starve it out, deprive it of essentials, and bomb it indiscriminately, as a way of defeating its esprit de corps an allowing a pro-Qaddafi takeover. Qaddafi clearly thinks that the NATO no-fly zone becomes useless if he occupies all the significant cities in the country, then hides his tanks in the conquered cities. Moreover, if he can take Misrata, that victory would free up men and weapons for deployment against Benghazi itself. Qaddafi’s indiscriminate bombardment of the civilian city, and his blockade on food, water and medicine, is a crime against humanity.

Misrata’s besieged people need to be rescued.

Benghazi is sending some aid by sea on fishing boats which are protected by NATO naval forces. But Benghazi itself is suffering from shortages.

More from France24 on the defense of Misrata.

BBC Arabic reports that rebel sources say they repulsed two attacks by Qaddafi forces on Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, in which the Tripoli military brought up heavy artillery (and likely GRAB rockets) with which to bomb the city center. Meanwhile, NATO says its planes destroyed 5 tanks attacking the city.

Reuters Arabic reports that Nouri al-Ibar, who coordinates aid from Benghazi for Misrata, said that many residents of the latter are dying because of a medicine shortage in the city.

Egyptian refugees from Misrata are saying the city is being subjected to ‘indiscriminate’ bombardment, which is a war crime.

Qaddafi is also bombarding Ajdabiya without regard to civilian life:

Radio Free Libya reports that the Benghazi government rejected African Union mediation because the terms it offered were unacceptable. Rebels say that no peace plan can succeed if it does not involve the departure of the Qaddafis, and that the withdrawal of his forces from major cities must precede the declaration of a cease fire.

The USG Open Source Center translates a radio broadcast put out by the Benghazi Transitional National Council

FYI — Libyan Rebel Radio Continues Criticism of African Union Mediation
Voice of Free Libya
Tuesday, April 12, 2011…
Document Type: OSC Summary

Benghazi Voice of Free Libya in Arabic on 11-12 April continued to air criticism of the peace plan for Libya proposed by the African Union (and the one put forward by Turkey) for failing to guarantee that Al-Qadhafi and his sons would step down, though one presenter said this did not mean that all mediation efforts would be rejected.

On the evening of 11 April, the radio carried a Koranic recitation and an unidentified announcer praying to God to make the rebels victorious and “destroy our enemy today”, citing examples of God’s support for various prophets against their enemies. “O Lord, make us victorious over those who oppressed us… O Lord, save us from those oppressors.”

The presenter then touched on the Palestinian issue, rejecting the term “roadmap” in the context of the Turkish and African mediation efforts, saying: “We first heard the term ‘roadmap’ in regard to Palestine some years ago. This roadmap was devised by some Western leaders who failed to implement it, despite its harsh conditions against the Palestinians. The (Middle East) Quartet (UN, US, EU and Russia) has failed to implement it up to today due to the obstinacy of the Jews, in spite of all the concessions offered by the Arabs.”

“We do not see any good in this (latest) roadmap proposed by Turkey, or rather the Turkish prime minister, and those African leaders, with due respect to our guests, as long as it fails to include the stepping down of the tyrant, his sons and aides.”

The radio reported the arrival that day (11 April) of the African mediation delegation in Benghazi, saying that hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside their hotel to express “their rejection of any settlement that does not include the stepping down of Al-Qadhafi and his sons”.

It said: “The (Interim) National Council (INC) stressed its rejection of a cease-fire before the withdrawal of the terrorist brigades, the departure of Al-Qadhafi and his sons from power and giving the people in the areas under their control the right of unconditional expression of their opinions.”

The radio aired what it said were recorded interviews conducted by its sister “Voice of Free Libya” radio station in Misratah “with some deceived personnel of Al-Qadhafi brigades who were pushed into the furnace of a losing war against their brothers and families in Misratah as they were arrested by the revolutionaries.” A presenter said this aimed to show “how horrible what Al-Qadhafi is doing against the Libyan people.”

One prisoner who introduced himself as Muhammad Muhammad al-Sharif from 7 April brigade, said “they brought me here from Misratah with 35 people… They handed us over to a colonel called Shihatah.” He hailed the rebels’ treatment of prisoners.

A female announcer presented a press review from a variety of newspapers, including Libya Al-Yawm.

The radio station quoted a spokesman for the INC as saying that “the terrorist (Al-Qadhafi) brigades received new quality weapons,” saying that “the spokesman did reveal any details about the sources of these weapons.”

At 1040 GMT on 12 April, a female presenter discussed “the means that tyrants follow when they feel that defeat is approaching”.

“When tyrants feel that defeat is approaching, they resort to deception and evasion. These are the last cards that are being revealed now; a mediation whose price the tyrant is paying in advance now. He is dispatching his agents here and there to mediate anew for his stay. Once again he is tampering with Libya’s wealth. He and his sons are looting as they want without supervision or accountability. Once again they are arresting, killing and torturing prisoners. This is what Al-Qadhafi is doing… The Turkish mediation comes, then it is followed by the African mediation. His safes are still full of the people’s money that makes him able to pay to remain anew on his fragile seat of power.”

“We should listen carefully to all those who want to mediate… We do not reject all mediation, but we will listen to what they are going to say… We, the free people of Libya, can now dictate our demands.”

At 1045 GMT, female presenter Intisar Fa’iz presented a 20-minute press review from a variety of Libyan and pan-Arab newspapers, including Intifadat al-Ahrar, Libya al-Ahrar, Biladuna, the London-based Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Al-Dustur, Oman al-Yawm.

At 1100 GMT, an unidentified woman announcer read a poem by poet Ahmad Matar. The radio then carried the Dhuhr call to prayers. Then a presenter read two more poems…

At 1145 GMT, an unidentified announcer introduced someone called Idris from Al-Marj to discuss “a demonstration to be staged today to support the Doha initiative.” Idris said the demonstration would stress that the first condition in any initiative should be the stepping down of Al-Qadhafi.

At 1215 GMT, an unidentified announcer held a telephone interview with Salih from Ajdabiyah and asked him about the situation in the city, Salih said: “Everything is fine… The (rebels’) national army is well positioned on the western side… Coordination is better than before… A simple skirmish took place 15 minutes ago away from the western gate of the city… Most of the population is outside the city. Those in the city are mostly revolutionaries.”

The announcer thanked Al-Jazirah TV for its coverage. He warned of “infiltrators in Benghazi and elsewhere who create problems.”

The radio broadcast a newscast at 1300 GMT. Items included:

“In eastern Al-Zintan, the terrorist brigades burnt the buildings and houses deserted by their owners.”

“In a statement released today, the caretaker transitional council in Naffusah Mountain expressed its rejection of all initiatives that fail to provide for the departure of the tyrant and his sons from power in Libya.”

22 Responses

  1. Prof Cole wrote: “Misrata’s besieged people need to be rescued.” How do you propose that could be done?

    • I have to second this question. The situation is very bad, but what can realistically be done?
      Sufficiently heay ranged fire from ships and aircraft on the besiegers in this situation would almost certainly lead to many civilian deaths (NATO seem to be hitting obvious targets) and putting a brigade of Western combat troops into Misrata is against Resolution 1973 (and would enormously complicate matters). What else would make this siege stop?

  2. link to commondreams.org

    April 12, 2011

    Not Why, But How: To the Shores of (and Skies Above) Tripoli
    By Andrew Bacevich

    It is a commonplace of American politics: when the moving van pulls up to the White House on Inauguration Day, it delivers not only a closetful of gray suits and power ties, but a boatload of expectations.

    A president, being the most powerful man in the world, begins history anew — so at least Americans believe, or pretend to believe. Out with the old, sordid, and disappointing; in with the fresh, unsullied, and hopeful. Why, with the stroke of a pen, a new president can order the closing of an embarrassing and controversial off-shore prison for accused terrorists held for years on end without trial! Just like that: done.

    For all sorts of reasons, the expectations raised by Barack Obama’s arrival in the Oval Office were especially high. Americans weren’t the only ones affected. How else to explain the Nobel Committee’s decision to honor the new president by transforming its Peace Prize into a Prize Anticipating Peace — more or less the equivalent of designating the winner of the Heisman Trophy during week one of the college football season.

    Of course, if the political mood immediately prior to and following a presidential inauguration emphasizes promise and discovery (the First Lady has biceps!), it doesn’t take long for the novelty to start wearing off. Then the narrative arc takes a nosedive: he’s breaking his promises, he’s letting us down, he’s not so different after all.

    The words of H.L. Mencken apply. “When I hear a man applauded by the mob,” the Sage of Baltimore wrote, “I always feel a pang of pity for him. All he has to do to be hissed is to live long enough.” Barack Obama has now lived long enough to attract his fair share of hisses, boos, and catcalls.

    Along with prolonging and expanding one war in Afghanistan, the Nobel Peace laureate has played a leading role in starting another war in Libya….

    • Prolonging the war in Afghanistan is inexcusable. But I would argue that the “war” in Libya was started by Qaddafi, and has targetted mostly unarmed civilians … which, if you had criticized the West for being slow to recognize the slaughter in Rwanda, then it isn’t consistent to dismiss international action in this case out of hand.

      • More common sense like this all round please. Those opposed to rescuing Misrata cannot use past (or future) failures to help as an excuse for not doing so now.
        And since that seems their only argument, they would do better to just shut up and not make exhibitions of themselves.

    • “Along with prolonging and expanding one war in Afghanistan, the Nobel Peace laureate has played a leading role in starting another war in Libya….”

      As obama implyed in his nobel speech, a perfectly peaceful world would be nice, however we do have to look at the world as it is and recognise force is sometimes necessary for the greater good.

    • Wait wait wait – Barack Obama started the war in Libya?

      You sure about that?

      Because I’m pretty sure there was a war in Libya before Barack Obama got there.

  3. Juan, thanks much for shining a bright light on the situation in Misrata. There has been little detail in the news.

    I understand the advanatage of a steady, patient, broad approach to eliminating the Qadaffy regime. But of course we also have to respond decisively to a crisis like Misrata.

    I don’t understand why the U.S. can not employ some of its specialized weaponry to drive the heavy weaponry out of the city. Drones could provide close range targeting.

    If Misrata can be released from Qadaffy’s grip, it would be a pivotal event psychologically.

  4. Dmol

    As obama implyed in his nobel speech, a perfectly peaceful world would be nice, however we do have to look at the world as it is and recognise force is sometimes necessary for the greater good.

    And even if the dominant street majority of Afghanis and Iraqis don’t understand or appreciate it, the US must stay,
    and impose its “peace,” killing innocents as well as any other native resistors until the streets understand what is good for them.

      • Will the US military really leave Iraq of its own free will?
        It bet that it will be kicked out by either the current Iraqi government or if not by the Sadr Milita with the backing of enough of the Iraqi Army to do the job.
        It is clear that the US will stay if they can get away with it.
        Getting away with it means suffering costs that are politically bearable.

  5. It’s often surprising how irony appears only with the passage of time.

    At least those of us who live in the US will recall vividly the September 2008 “Saturday Night Live” skit featuring a mock joint appearance by “Sarah Palin” (played by Tina Fey) and “Hillary Clinton” (played by Amy Poehler). Here is the best-known exchange from this extremely well-watched video:

    Hillary Clinton: I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy.

    Sarah Palin: And I can see Russia from my house!

    As all who saw this video will remember well, Hillary’s line was received in respectful silence, while Palin’s response brought down the house. It was perhaps the single funniest line of the 2008 US Presidential campaign.

    In light of Hillary Clinton’s subsequent “Bomb first, ask questions later” approach to US relations with Libya – carried to the absurd extent of denying a visa to Libya’s designated representative to the UN, and refusing to allow would-be African Union negotiators to land in Tripoli, whose statement strikes you as more humorous now?

    • “Hillary Clinton’s subsequent “Bomb first, ask questions later” approach to US relations with Libya”

      There is no way to comport this characterization with reality. The US used the same diplomatic efforts in Libya that it used to grease the skids for Mubarak’s exit in Egypt, pursuing this stance for weeks, even after the fighting started, and agreeing to use force only when a massive crime against humanity was hours from being committed.

      • Joe from Lowell:

        The US used “diplomacy” in Libya? Please.

        The US refused even to issue a visa to Libya’s designated UN representative so he could go to the UN in New York to try a little diplomatting. When Libya selected another UN representative, he flew to Tunisia in a clever but unsuccessful effort to present his credentials to the UN Secretary General, who happened to be in Tunisia at the time, but he too was rebuffed. When the African Union asked to send negotiators to Tripoli to try to settle the matter peacefully, they were refused fly-over permission by NATO (until recently: they finally were permitted to land after several weeks of refusals).

        Hillary’s “diplomacy” has amounted to nothing but a demand that Gaddafi leave – not what one might characterize as a “diplomatic” demand to make to a leader who is, after all, winning handily on the battlefield, and a demand which, if accepted, would eliminate entirely the need for any “diplomacy” whatsoever.

        That is the sort of “diplomacy” that Hitler employed shortly before he invaded Poland. How can you seriously claim it’s anything more than that?

        As far as your assertion that “a massive crime against humanity was hours from being committed,” you’re simply accepting that on blind faith from rebel leaders who’ve lied repeatedly even when the truth would have done just as well. Gaddafi never said he was going to massacre innocent civilians. As anyone who heard those remarks (by his son, actually) understood, he was referring to the rebels who had illegally seized Libyan government arsenals and taken over many Libyan cities. Nor did he say he was going to kill them – merely that he was going to show them “no mercy.” I can guarantee, Joe, that if you or I seize some US military arsenal and take over Chicago, the US government is likely to react in a very similar manner, quite possibly including a threat to show us “no mercy.” This will happen even if we’re the nicest guys in the world and deserve to take over the government of the United States. If that happens (and it’s up to you, Joe – count me out on that one), I won’t interpret such a remark to mean that the US government intends to slaughter the innocent residents of Chicago.

        You believe what you want to believe, of course, as I suppose we all do. But you ought at least to acknowledge that you’re accepting it all on faith. Gaddafi has had many opportunities to massacre civilians. Other than unsubstantiated claims of the rebels, have you seen or heard any evidence whatsoever that he’s actually done so? if he’s killed 8,000 innocent civilians, as some have estimated (and that was several weeks back), surely there must be at least one photo or video that shows this clearly.

        I invite you to do what I did when Professor Cole posted a link several weeks back to a video that “proved” Gaddafi’s brutality: actually click on the link, watch the video, ask yourself whether it really shows what you’d expected or anything close to it, and, finally, wonder why something better than that video can’t be found to prove the rebels’ “civilian massacre” allegations.

        You, like many others, simply work backwards from your conclusion to find (or fabricate out of whole cloth) assumptions that support those conclusions.

        Your thinking is supposed to move in the opposite direction.

  6. The global indifference to the crisis in Misrata is staggering. But there are questions, such as where is the satellite footage?
    And there are reassuring answers. Such as the real formula of peace in Libya, which is mathematical and is a function of the ammunition remaining in Gadaffi’s arsenal (X), its rate of use and destruction (Y), and the resolution of the forces of freedom (F). The answer would be the period of time (T) before Gadaffi has to go. The actual figures should be quite easy to find.
    T=X/YxF. I think. Something quite dependable though.
    I’m not a mathematician, but I know that unless Gadaffi is being restocked, his end gets nearer with every shot his troops fire.

  7. The tatics that Quaddafi has employed in this siege have standard operating siege proceedures for 5000 years.
    They were declared illegal by the additional protocals of the Geneva Convention in 1 9 7 7. How many centuries ago was 1 9 7 7?
    Furthermore the Geneva Conventions are not the final rule on barbaric behavior. These rules prohibit the assissination of any enemies political leaders for example. If you ask me when a war breakes out the politicians should be the first targets not the last targets.
    Yes in this case that would mean Quddaffi. It would also mean the French President Sarcozy and the English Primier Whats his name, the MIC Puppet leading the USA, and the CIA troll masqurading as a freedom fighter in this civil war.
    I still make no appology for hoping that Quaddafi outlasts Sarkouzy.
    I remember hearing that once Saddam was captured no one would continue to fight for the resistance. The Iraqi resitance is not defeated it is only observing a shaky truce.

  8. Joe from Lowell:

    Here’s another example, this one from C.J. Chivers’ piece today in the NY Times, reporting on the fighting in Misrata. The article mentions that a 6-year old girl was injured in today’s fighting. A photo in a linked collection of photos shows a girl on a hospital operating table who I easily can believe is 6 years old.

    How was this girl injured?

    Turns out there are two answers to that question. Here is the caption for the photo of the girl that appeared in a collection of photos attached to Mr. Chivers’ Times article:

    “A doctor at Misurata Hospital worked [successfully, thank goodness] to save the life of a 6-year-old girl who was shot in the chest by Qaddafi forces. She also sustained a neck wound from shrapnel during the fighting.”

    According to the caption, then, this poor girl was both (1) shot in the chest, which suggests someone fairly close to her shot her with a hand gun or a rifle; and (2) wounded by shrapnel, which suggests she was hit by an incoming missile or mortar shell, presumably fired from far away. In other words, Gaddafi’s forces were shelling an area in which their own comrades were fighting with rifles or hand-guns.

    Possible? Yes. Plausible? You tell me. I don’t think so, and I suspect Mr. Chivers shared my skepticism. His article did not even claim the girl had been shot – by anyone. All of her wounds, according to Mr. Chivers, were caused by shrapnel.

    While this example suggests exaggeration or fabrication by the caption writer, it nonetheless does strike me as solid evidence that a 6-year old girl indeed was seriously wounded by shrapnel from a missile or mortar shell fired by the Libyan military. This is the sort of evidence that does support claims that Gaddafi’s attacks are killing or wounding innocent civilians – the first I’ve seen, but evidence nonetheless. I readily concede that, and concede that it’s better evidence than much (not all) of what is offered by the Libyan government to show that NATO bombings in Tripoli have been killing civilians. Nevertheless, most Western journalists physically based in Tripoli appear now to agree that civilians are dying from the NATO strikes on the city. Some civilian deaths indeed are occurring, even though I strongly suspect that the pilots who drop those bombs on Tripoli, and the Libyan troops who fire mortars into Misrata, sincerely hope that they won’t kill or injure any 6-year old girls.

    There is no question that war is very hard on civilians. The sooner a war ends, the better for civilians. You and others who press for more assistance to the rebels, so that they can continue this war, should bear that clearly in mind. It’s worth repeating, since it plainly doesn’t seem to have sunk in yet: Setting aside the question of which side wins, the longer this war lasts, the harder it will be on civilians. That is why the US should have allowed negotiations to occur before sending in the bombers. That is why it should have allowed Libya to seat the first, or at least the second, of its designated UN representatives so that the matter could be debated in the UN – and possibly even resolved there; that, after all, is what the UN is supposed to be good at. That is why NATO should have allowed the African Union to send in its negotiators right from the start. And that is why the US should now consider a solution that doesn’t require, as an absolute non-negotiable starting point, that Gaddafi and his sons leave the country. That simply is not a responsible position, especially in light of the parties’ relative positions on the battlefield. What leader in his right mind would simply give up when he’s not only winning, but winning with only minimal resistance from enemy troops for whom the label “Keystone Kops” would be an entirely undeserved compliment?

    You, and everyone else who presses for military aid to the rebels, may indeed be “saving lives” if, as you claim, Gaddafi would otherwise roll into Benghazi and start hacking up innocent women and children. The analysis indeed would be different if we really had evidence – rather than baseless conjecture – to believe that would happen.

    But even this very sad story about the 6-year old girl doesn’t provide evidence that Gaddafi has done that or would do that – any more than it proves the US would do that when a NATO bomber drops a bomb on a civilian area in Tripoli, as it’s indisputably done. What the story of this 6-year old girl does show, however, is that continuing a war unnecessarily results in unnecessary civilian deaths.

    That we know for sure. What you claim – that helping the rebels to prolong this senseless fighting would “save lives” – is, by contrast, irresponsible conjecture.

  9. No need to look outside this blog for an example of what I mean by unsubstantiated claims. Professor Cole writes, in this very piece:

    “Qaddafi is also bombarding Ajdabiya without regard to civilian life:”

    He then embeds a video. Have any of you watched that video? It shows a funeral procession, with one casket, whose occupant is described by relatives as rebel fighter who died for the cause. A second casket is shown later in the video and, once again, relatives or friends describe the deceased as a rebel fighter. The video later shows, from a distance, what appear to be 4-6 caskets resting in the ground in an area of a cemetery that a rebel fighter describes as “Martyr’s Row.” He does not say that any civilians are buried there, and one gets the clear impression that the area is reserved for rebel fighters who’ve been killed in battle. Neither the video, nor the narrator, nor any of the people interviewed even suggest that Gaddafi troops attacked civilians in Ajdabiyah.

    This is exactly the sort of thing that, unfortunately, passes for “evidence” among those who’ve decided that the best thing to do is continue this war until Gaddafi is driven out of Libya. No evidence at all appears in this video, and yet it’s presented here as evidence.

  10. This sounds like the Barbarians’ Last Stand. The desperate howls of pain at the imminent decapitation of a sacred Godhead. And the excruciating psychological, historical and moral contortions of those determined to keep the monster Gadaffi in power.
    It’s a terrible sight to watch, but far less terrible than the scenes in Misrata, which the barbarians are blind to, being more concerned to defend their own crackpot bar-stool political theories and Cold War allegiances.

  11. Little RichardJohn,

    An essential point you’re missing here: I’m saying that those, like you, who want to prolong the war are the barbarians. You’re saying that those, like me, who want to end the war are barbarians.

    You should acknowledge that, absent any reason to think otherwise, continuing the war will cause more civilian suffering. But you counter that there indeed IS a reason to think otherwise: if we don’t arm and train the rebels, and do whatever else it takes to defeat Gaddafi and drive him from the country, he will massacre civilians.

    I then respond: If one accepts your assumptions, you’re probably correct. But why, why should anyone simply accept your assumptions? What reason do we really have to believe that Gaddafi would willingly – not as “collateral damage,” but willingly – go into Benghazi and start hacking women and children? What shred of evidence do you have to believe that would occur, other than the insistent word of a bunch of no-name incompetent rebels who’ve indisputably lied about a great deal?

    You seem to think that there’s no harm in taking the rebels’ word for it, that it won’t matter if it turns out you’ve been duped. Better safe than sorry, you might argue: if it turns out that Gaddafi wouldn’t have butchered his people after all, it will still have been a fun adventure.

    The problem with that “better safe than sorry” argument is that many more civilians will get killed, by both sides, while we’re waiting to find out whether the rebels’ claims are really valid. Why not avoid all that by asking for some evidence now? Certainly we have injured civilians – on both sides – but do we really have any evidence at all to think that either side would intentionally slaughter civilians? And if not, should we not end this pointless fighting now?

  12. You don’t want to ‘end the war’, you want to throw the Libyan people to the wolves, and cause a much greater war, which will draw in both Israel and Iran.
    There is no ‘war’, there is a mad homicidal dictator who threatens both the lives of thousands of Libyans and the stability of the region and the process of change which has begun. To let him off the hook – as you want to – would send a huge sigh of relief through every despotic Barbarian bunker from the Atlantic to the Himalayas.
    And even your paranoia can only last as long as Gadaffi’s supply of munitions, which is rapidly dwindling. Unless your conspiracy theories stretch to him being restocked by Washington.
    You want to allow a barbarian dictator to kill his way to Immortality, I want to remove him, as do the Libyan people. You are the barbarian.

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