The Gates of Hell Have Opened in Tripoli

I am watching Aljazeera Arabic, which is calling people in Tripoli on the telephone and asking them what is going on in the capital. The replies are poignant in their raw emotion, bordering on hysteria. The residents are alleging that the Qaddafi regime has scrambled fighter jets to strafe civilian crowds, has deployed heavy artillery against them, and has occupied the streets with armored vehicles and strategically-placed snipers. One man is shouting that “the gates of Hell have opened” in the capital and that “this is Halabja!” (where Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein ordered helicopter gunships to hit a Kurdish city with sarin gas, killing 5000 in 1988).

Two defecting Libyan pilots who flew to Malta confirmed the orders to strafe the crowds from the air and said that they declined to obey the order. Other pilots appear to have been more loyal.

YouTube video shows buildings on fire or burned out in the capital, or with holes in the walls, evidence of violence through the night and into the morning. There are reports of a massacre of protesters in the central Green Square of Tripoli, with “too many bodies to count.”

Aljazeera English has some video:

Qaddafi’s strategy is an Iraq 1991 gambit, where Saddam Hussein remained in power after the Gulf War by deploying his Republican Guards tank corps and helicopter gunships against civilian crowds in Najaf, Basra and elsewhere. In Iraq, this strategy was successful in part because the Sunni officers knew that if the protest movement succeeded, the Shiite religious parties would come to power and subject the Sunni Arabs. The Iraqi armor and helicopter pilots therefore remained loyal to Saddam, and succeeded in their repression.

Qaddafi does not have a similar ethnic divide to help shore up the loyalty of his officer corps, though of course he has advantaged some tribes and groups more than others. His massacre on Monday seems to have created a split in the Libyan elite around him, with key diplomatic personnel resigning and some military men defecting.

For more on his style of governing see [pdf] Mohamed Berween, “The Political Belief System of Qaddafi” The Journal of Libyan Studies, vol. 4, no. 1 (Summer 2003).

The cries of the Tripoli residents witnessing the massacre around them may be the death knell of the Qaddafi regime.

Posted in Uncategorized | 39 Responses | Print |

39 Responses

  1. for clarification , were the jets strafing or bombing protesters in Tripoli ? Or perhaps both strafing and bombing in Tripoli. Also , have seen reports of shelling of Tripoli by their Navy – is this true ? thanks for any input …..

  2. There are three sides in Libya: the people on the streets, Qaddafi and the military, and the non-Qaddafi layers of the government (who are constitutionally distinct from Qaddafi).

    The mass defections of ambassadors are not, I fear, a principled stance, but rather the non-Qaddafi layers, who unlike their analogues in Egypt and Tunisia don’t have the army on their side, positioning themselves as best they can to pick up the pieces and restore business-as-usual when Qaddafi goes.

  3. I imagine there to be a widespread desire among many regional interests (including the West) to see the gates of hell open up sooner than later in order to stem the flow of unreliable military people into government power.

  4. .
    The US Navy airbase in Sigonella, Sicily, Italy is about 250 miles from Tripoli.
    US Naval aviators eat Libyan pilots for lunch.
    Why hasn’t the Libyan Air Force been -grounded- knocked out of the sky ? It’s almost 4 hours since the US President knew what was going on.

    • Are you saying that the US should attack Libya? Start another war in the Middle East?

      Are you insane?

      • .
        Well, yes and no.

        The US Air Force has the technology to monitor the Libyan Air Force 24/7/365. They have the ability to shoot down Libyan aircraft from 40 miles away.

        AWACS could very well have identified specific aircraft that engaged in attacks on civilians, and shot down only those aircraft. After about a dozen airframes crashed in Tripoli, the rest of the Libyan Air Force would have figured out what was going on, and all such attacks would have stopped.

        This is actually pretty close to what happened in the Gulf of Sidra in 1986.

        No war would ensue.

        And I don’t really know if I’m insane.

        • Brian, You are assuming the US govt does not want to protect the Libyan status quo and that it cares about Libyan civilians. Not sure you can.

        • Yes, you are insane. And no, it is completely different than the 1986 Sidra air raid.

    • .
      I’m projecting. I assume that America’s “aspirational values” concerning self-determination, liberty, etc. are the core values that guide our foreign policy. Maybe I’m wrong ?

      In any event, I just saw a post – uncorroborated, so far – that the Libyan former Ministers and Ambassadors who have abandoned Colonel Qaddafi have appealed to Obama to announce and immediately enforce a “no-fly zone.” Not waiting for the UN to act. This proposal is not that different, in effect, from what I proposed this afternoon.

      I sure hope the trolls from the NSC are checking this site out.

      • I have listened to all the ambassadors that gave interviews and not one had asked the united states to interfere. If anyone ever does, he has amnesia. You might have heard united nations not united states. They and all Arabs witnessed what you are calling liberty guiding foreign policy looked like in Iraq. You evidently did not, and does not know that it had caused the lives of hundred of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, still does. The past is still present and cannot be deleted from minds so fast. It’s now being used by other authoritarian regimes to scare their people. Arabs remember Iraq more than Serbia. I am afraid you are wrong.

        • .
          I did not hear or read this myself; it is second-hand hearsay.
          The call was for “No fly zones.”

          If you didn’t hear that, and you listened to all of the officials who defected, then perhaps my source, a friend ob another blog, was wrong.

        • It would be insane for the US, EU or any foreign power to use military force against the Libyan military. It would immediately be seen as “foreign powers attacking and killing Libyans,” not liberating them. “They” are trying to depose “our” leader. Saddam redux.

          This is the lesson of Somalia, that military intervention, even from humanitarian motives, will turn the local population against the interveners.

      • “I assume that America’s “aspirational values” concerning self-determination, liberty, etc. are the core values that guide our foreign policy. Maybe I’m wrong ?”

        You are more than 100% incorrect. The current goal of US Imperial Policy is Full Spectrum Dominance, which you can read at the War Department, link to

        US Imperial Trade Policy is similar and is still essentially as ennunciated over 110 years ago–The Open Door Policy, which was followed by the still practiced Dollar Diplomacy. You won’t like it, but if you really want to know about the US Empire in one volume then Super Imperialism by Micheal Hudson is for you. And you would certainly benefit from reading Animal Farm and 1984. Understanding the basic rationale for the US Empire’s behavior requires a little more work, but is easy to track since it’s been around for almost 120 years, starting with Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis and The Law of Civilization and Decay by Brook Adams. And yes, there’s oh so much more: Hundreds of thousands of pages and years of scholarship, but you can get the gist from just those works listed above, and you won’t even have to spend a cent as any college library ought to have them.

      • “America’s ‘aspirational values’ […] guide our foreign policy”?

        Not in this universe.

        • For the USA, oil price is more important than bloodshed and crimes against humanity

  5. It’s a bit like watching “Downfall/Der Untergang” on the last days of Hitler in the bunker, with a vicious twist as he is slaughtering his own people. He might possibly be able to contain Tripoli, but how can he survive as a leader when he has to employ mercenaries to attack his people and his ministers are all abandoning him? This can only rally end one way: the question is how many people will he bring down with him? The backlash afterwards will also be all the more violent.

  6. Coming home just now and listening to the news on NPR, I heard that Qaddafi may be about to leave or already on his way out. All unconfirmed, speculative. And the commentator said the Libyan military are, well, unreliable. Are we looking at a power vacuum and more blood?

    As the oil companies start to pack their bags (some have already taken off)(and it’s bound to happen in other oil states with protesters) how will that change the situation in general?

  7. why the western democracies don’t move?
    The answer ise it to be found where it smells oil oil ohat a ridiculous hypocrisy
    wake up it ‘s urgent to act
    mr obama has to act as he did with moubarak

    • <i?mr obama has to act as he did with moubarak

      You mean he has to equivocate and say that he thinks that democracy is nice, but Qaddafi isn’t really all that bad if you think about it?

      The west doesn’t move, I hope, because it’s not our place to just barge in and smash everything because we don’t have a plan. This is a U.N. matter and should be dealt with through the United Nations not through uilateral actions.

    • Aziz, do you really believe that Mr Qaddifi would take a call from Obama, I don’t.

      The Egyptian military probably had more to do with Mubarak’s decision to step down than anything that Obama said or did. The Egyptian military probably told the US military of their plans and they in turn would have told Obama.

  8. This is so, so horrible, but unlike Saddam in 1991, we have much more access media-wise to see what’s going on and react to it minute by minute. I’m not saying that the revolution is dependent on Twitter, IPhones, etc., but that these instruments are very useful obviously – I know that the people facing the violence in Libya are doing just that: bravely facing horrible violence. Twenty years ago, we would’ve heard about this, filtered through the BBC 24 hours later (or not heard about it at all as far as US media is concerned). Gives us onlookers at chance to write to our representatives, do support demonstrations, etc. But the work on the ground is being done by incredibly brave, desperate people – and I am sick to my stomach of Western media fluctuating between ‘unreasonable fanatic Arabs’ (when rising up against Mubarak), and ‘brave Arabs fighting a corrupt madman’ (when rising up against Ghaddafi).

  9. FREDW, um, maybe because the article says “strafing” not once but twice, “clarification” isn’t really necessary?

    • As I’m sure you have read , accounts from numerous sources vary – I was not referring merely to Juan’s piece , but what was the best sense of what was occurring in light of conflicting reports . And by the way , your tone was inappropriate . I’m sure you’re aware information from Libya is often contradicted – in fact Gaddafi was rumored to have fled the country earlier today. If you can’t reply without affecting a superior attitude , go to a yahoo board.

  10. Am I wrong in insisting that the situations in Libya and the other countries are totally distinct. In Libya, non violent protests were held without problem on Tues and Wed. Then, the “protesters” decided to ratchet up their violence and provoke a response.

    It is beyond doubt that these marauding gangs of youth went around Benghazi torching police stations and government buildings Thurs and Friday. At some point, the regime decided to defend some buildings and this was the first point of violence. The next point, at a military base outside Benghazi, was the site of an attempted take over of the area’s arms cache (not a non-violent protest as some reported in the West). The Libyan army simply could not allow a group to take over the weapons cache and so they fought back = more dead.

    This is a tragedy and a possible beginnings of a Civil War. It is an armed insurrection aimed at overthrowing a State. In what world is this supposed to be uncritically supported? Is the official position of the US and EU to support takeover of arms depots and setting on fire of government buildings?

    All I remember in the early days of the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia is the US and EU urging calm and non-violence on the part of all sides. In this case, there has been no mention, let alone criticism of the “protester’s” violent methods.

    • Well, you are correct in the sense that these revolutions are distinct from one another in character, but not in the sense that they are discrete, utterly dissimilar in cause, or unprovoked by the ruling parties.
      Gaddafi has had a bloody, extended reign, punctuated by disappearances of detractors, repression of dissenting media and control of technology. It’s been going on for 43 years. He’s got a record. Seriously. The history of linkage and support with the US and other western powers is similar to Mubarak, and Ben Ali. The history of repression and oppression of the public, squandering and hoarding of public funds in an impoverished country and monstrous human rights abuses (broad and deep, on that one) all characterize several strongman type governments in the Arab world. For a long time the exterior Palestinian/Israeli conflict has been the rage-inducing opiate of the masses, allowing the eye of the citizen to focus outward. In the face of massive food price increases,massive unemployment and the examples of Yemen and Egypt, the people are looking at their own internal concerns, are hungry, thinking critically, and have the hope of achieving change.

      And yes, given the history of Gaddaffi and his vengefully quick response to being flouted, it IS highly unlikely the protesters would have had a chance to start those fires. If you look at the information coming out of Egypt and the precedents set in Iran, widespread use of the Basiji (informal thug squads) was common on the evening of the second and throughout the third day of protests. The thugs used fire to corral protesters, beatings and killings to quell them, and then hid among their midst in plainclothes, so no-one could point to them as culprits save for the “unreliable” protesters who had just allegedly caused widespread damage. Recursive, and effective. Also, third time “Wolf,” IMHO.

      • Sorry. but I have to disagree with almost everything you wrote.

        From the top. Indeed, there are big differences in the scale of protests in Libya vs. elsewhere. The fact that there have been no sustained protests in the capital is significant. There are also big differences in cause. Libya is the richest country in Africa, with low inequality and official corruption (acc. to “Libya watchers” quoted by Reuters). Libya is also very decentralized already, with the power at the local levels. And there is no “ruling party” in Libya – in fact there are no parties.

        I’m not going to defend Libya’s human rights record, except to say their African peers recently voted them in to the UN HR Commission. But you can not compare Libya’s foreign policy vis-a-vis the US to Egypt or Tunisia’s. That is just a laugh… Libya has long been the nemesis of US Imperialism in the region.

        That you still do not believe your Holy protesters are setting fires is really an indictment of the media. Although several reports have mentioned the petrol bombs and moltov cocktais, this inconvenient fact has been largely hidden. Yet, the protester’s own video makes this clear. Imagine if the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt attacked an arms depot – would this be unknown?

        • You are absurd and an ignoramus. I’m an Arab. I’ve been to Libya– it is a shithole, because of Gaddafi. There are practically no paved streets in Tripoli. Corruption and neglect are BEYOND rife.

          Though it may be the “Libya is the richest country in Africa, with low inequality and official corruption (acc. to “Libya watchers” quoted by Reuters)” NONE OF THAT MONEY GOES TO THE COUNTRY– neither the people nor the municipalities. It goes to the ‘brave’ army and the pockets of the Gaddafi and his ruling clique.

          Seriously. Stop talking.

        • Gaddafi has become more cooperative with Western capitalists since 9/11. Given the US’s disaster in Iraq and its bungling loss of Central Asia’s energy potential to China, we’ve also become willing to let bygones be bygones. So, the US is keeping its hands off until whoever really runs the capitalist world figures out a scheme to trick Libya into handing over its oil fields.

    • Although this would be using disproportionate force but from what we know so far, this doesn’t seem to be a peaceful uprising like Tunisia and Egypt, at least some elements in it. Trying to storm a military compound at night is not peaceful.
      And I love Aljazeera, but today I watched the arabic version and did think it was irresponsible to have on for hours, a guest Libyan journalist that was literally trying to incite the protestors to topple Gaddafi by force. He was saying that Gaddafi and his sons are going to be killed and encouraged the protestors to go to his palace.
      Also, did any one find it odd that these terrible pictures of charcoal bodies actually had military uniforms that were not burned or changed color? It was said that they were military killed for joining the people. A black mercenary was also shot in the chest, but why would the regime kill its own mercenaries too?

    • Matt:

      The USA was founded after an “armed insurrection aimed at overthrowing a State” actually succeeded.

      The Libyan dictatorship has stood for more than 40 years, and it is that dictatorship, unwilling to relinquish its power, that makes a peaceful process impossible, as it prefers to use violence to stop even dissent.

  11. this will make things worse for all dictatorial regimes throughout the middle east as populations witness the unleashing of terror upon innocent civilians, they will become enraged and tolerate ever the more the dicatatorial brutality of such rule, making them question even harder their own governance.

  12. There is already a war going on in the middle east, unbeknownst to people.

  13. Please, Mohammed, being an Arab does not give you the right to silence those who are speaking the truth! This is a site for academics (mostly) and Matt is right: Libya has applied “autonomist” local councils governance for years and there are ceiling on salaries and money IS being redistributed. The only problem is that the localized governance instead of empowering workers, as it was meant to do, started increasingly to be taken over by tribal powers. While inequality has not been eradicated–recently, with the opening of international trade, inequality started to become a reality–there is still a fair and decent economic situation and some relative equality across cities and villages (by comparison to numerous countries, including the US)! The 1970s laws disempowering the Benghazi merchant elite are decaying, but there is no “local” corruption except as implemented by councils/tribal leaders. Qaddafi ONLY controls internatiopnal relations, international trade, the military and intelligence, etc. ALL local decisions are beyond his reach (although of late, influence and money, both European and American in provenance, has been tilting the balancce of power. Why hasn’t anyone speculated about this “revolution” (which started out as a tribal uprising) can and is being manipulated by special interests (Oil companies could get better deals with a neoliberal and copropratist model of governance instead of the current model. So, please, think through the fog of rumors and inunendo and the “spontaneous” combustion of the poor oppressed Libyan people–who seem to be calling, if they indeed are saying anything, for a more exploitative and oppressive economic system…. Bikafi!

    • Look, I don’t know what pseudo-intellectual garbage you read in you overpriced college poli-sci courses, but I’ve been to Libya.





      So you can keep your socio-economic jargon to yourself, because I can guarantee you wouldn’t want to live in ‘glorious Gaddafi’s Libya’.





        Why the baldfaced lies? Libya has a massive petroleum extraction, refinery, port, and related infrastructure system that exports almost 2 million barrels of oil per day. Click onto google images, type in bengazi and you can see that there are many more than “1 paved main road”–asphalt is made from oil you know. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, link to

        • No lies. Perhaps outdated. I was there over 15 years ago. But congratulations on more than 1 paved road being considered an ‘achievement’.

          The fact that you’re calling me out on that, is the exception that proves the rule.

          The richest country in Africa, and all you can show me for ‘development’ is asphalt (in a desert country), and oil infrastructure?


          How about desalination plants, hydroponics, agriculture, a bloody space program or better yet:

          A not completely Looney Tunes schizophrenic to run the country?

          Does that enter into your analysis?

        • Hello,

          Oil as a major resource should serve to finance development, a powerful education system… At least!
          Gadaffi strategy -for years- has been to use part of that money to cover basic necessities of people and make them under a heavy doctrine of their wellness skipping all the things needed to be done.
          I am from Tunisia and have relatives in Libya.
          If you go to Sfax (in Tunisia South) where I studied and you will see the spectacular number of Libyans going there (thousands of miles to travel) for basic medical services!!
          How come a country like Tunisia (with few natural resources) have managed to build a great education system and a very powerful universal health care (for free) and the rich Libya of Gaddefi didn’t yet?
          A Libyan rapper says it very well: “Our revolution is made out of the belief than we deserve more than just eating and sleeping”!

          Yes you are right, the Libyan case is distinct but not in term of need to make the revolution but in term of “How? What would be the issues and constraints?…”

          PS. Stop talking about the violent protester! Is their violence (if have ever existed) an enough justification to use F16 and navy boats against them???!!!


  14. I have to admit, I don’t want the neocons to get even a single victory in the Arab world, and in their eyes Gaddafi was an enemy. The question which it is still too soon to ask is: who will get the oil wealth when Gaddafi capitulates? If a new regime keeps the oil fields and diverts their revenue to a new agenda of social democracy, great. If the German proposal to build solar thermal farms across North Africa and send electricity to Europe by underground cable is carried out, fantastic.

    But these days every treasure in the world ends up being contested by only two great powers: American seduction and Chinese bribes.

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