Rebels Consolidate Control over Tripoli as Qaddafi’s Mass Killings Discovered

The systematic war crimes of the Qaddafi regime continue to be uncovered, with the discovery Saturday in Tripoli of the charred remains of nearly 60 bodies in a warehouse. The victims had been prisoners of the regime, among some 150 who have disappeared, nearly a hundred of them probably hastily buried. But these 58 bodies were hastily burned instead, probably because the regime was collapsing and it feared it wouldn’t have time to have the remains interred.

These gruesome remains are only one of a number of massacres committed by Qaddafi forces as the capital was falling, with other caches of bodies found in several other spots around the capital.

Earlier, a mass grave with the bodies of 150 former prisoners had been discovered in Tawargha.

Large numbers of bodies were also found in a hospital in Tripoli, but it is unclear who is responsible (it could be that they were badly wounded in the fighting and died when the medical staff fled for fear of their lives).

Some African mercenaries may have been the victims of reprisal killings by the rebels, but details are sketchy. The Transitional National Council has repeatedly instructed revolutionaries to avoid reprisal killings.

The new government is consolidating its control of Tripoli, with firefights subsiding and the rebels able to drive trucks through Abu Salim and in the vicinity of the airport, where earlier loyalists had put up a fight.

The Transitional government troops have now taken Zuara and the border post on the Tunisian border, and so control all the territory between Tunisia and the capital of Tripoli. Nic Robertson reported this advance early Sunday morning from the Tunisian border.

Andrew Gilligan, who saw Baghdad fall, patiently explains why Libya is unlikely to turn into another Iraq. He points out that things are as orderly as could be expected in Tripoli, and there has been no mass looting. Although services are facing some interruptions, they are not cut off altogether as happened in Baghdad. Traffic police are reemerging on the streets (and the TNC is committed to keeping the regular police force that does not have blood on its hands). Gilligan does not say, but I will, that Libya lacks the sectarian dimension of Iraq, as well. Had a Sunni regime come to power in Baghdad after Saddam that treated Sunnis decently, the Sunni insurgency might well never have gotten off the ground. It was Shiite rule that produced polarization. In Libya most people are Sunnis, so this consideration is largely absent.

Moreover, whereas the Bush administration forbade its military to do “Phase IV” planning and sideline Tom Warrick at the State Department, who had done a project on what would be needed in post-Saddam Iraq, the Libyan transitional government has done a lot of solid planning for the aftermath.

Middle East expert Glenn Robinson reviews the remarkable successes of the UN/ NATO / Arab League intervention in Libya to forestall a major massacre and the crushing of the reform movement (which as Robinson rightly points out, would have put Qaddafi in a position to undermine the democratic experiment in Tunisa– and I would argue in Egypt as well). Robinson concurs with Gilligan that all the NATO intervention did was level the playing field, and that popular uprisings and the rebels’ own military actions account for the revolution.

The fuel situation in Libya could be somewhat stabilized this coming week, as engineers get the Zawiya refinery back online.

Posted in Libya | 20 Responses | Print |

20 Responses

  1. “Had a Sunni regime come to power in Baghdad after Saddam that treated Sunnis decently, the Sunni insurgency might well never have gotten off the ground. It was Shiite rule that produced polarization. In Libya most people are Sunnis, so this consideration is largely absent.”

    Did this have anything to do with the Saddam era treatment of Shia’s, or is it simply that Shiite rule is bloody whereas Sunni rule is not?

    • The Shia who suffered were the ones trying to import Iran’s theocracy into Iraq. This fact is often overlooked. Indeed, the Iraq-Iran, wrong though it was, was ultimately an attempt to prevent Shia theocracy.

      Otherwise, secular Shia comprised 70% of the Baath Party, and security forces.

      The Revolutionary Command Council, the highest governing body with actual power, beneath Saddam, consisted of 8 people: 3 Sunni Arabs, a Sunni Kurd, an Arab Christian, and 3 Arab Shia.

      All those so-called Oppositionists to Saddam were educated in the West on scholarships from the Baath government– Ayad Allawi and Ahmed Chalabi included, both of whom were members of Baath Party. Even more so, they were Saddams minions–Ayad Allawi was a car bomber.

      Don’t believe the hype.

  2. Eid Mubarak to all Libyans, and to you prof. Cole. You have been the voice of sanity through all this and continue to be so. I live amongst a small community of Libyans and have been following this story closely since last Feb. Reports on this blog have been in almost total agreement with the ideas, attitudes and knowledge of those Libyans I have spoken to. I was offered a job in Libya and hesitated to accept and then all this mayhem happened. I was really disappointed because by a large majority, the Libyans I have met were all warm, generous and positive people and I very much wanted to experience the land that produced these amazing loving and lovable people. It seems mow that I may soon get my chance. Inshallah

  3. I see a statement in this post that the Bush administration “forbade the military to do Phase iv planning and had not read that before. What material is available to expand on this?

    • This was reported widely in 2004 by a number of media outlets including “The New York Times,” “The Washington Post” and “The New Yorker” magazine. Seymour Hersh did a great deal of reporting on how the Bush administration either ignored the voluminous amount of post-invasion planning done by career officers at The State Dept., or prevented military officers working in civil administration to develop their own plans.

      Instead, The White House sent in hundreds of right wing ideologues who thought they could privatize everything, and then turn the country over to Ahmed Chalibi – the man who was the Bush Administration’s favorite Iraqi because he kept feeding Dick Cheney and the CIA (which employed him and funded his political organization) utter falsehoods about Saddam’s so-called “WMDs” – which, while not true, was what Cheney wanted to hear.

        • But the point is that Chalabi did not ultimately prove loyal to the US Occupation. He seems to have deeper loyalties to Iran, but who can say for sure? He’s still in politics, now hostile to the US.

          And that was the best we could do with 150,000 troops on the ground and an unlimited war budget, following a decade of massive fabrication of an Iraqi capitalist exile movement by Dick Cheney with the resources of the American Enterprise Institute and Halliburton and the Project for a New American Century – done openly and clearly their top priority, complete with countless Congressional hearings to regurgitate fake evidence.

          It was hard to get good help in 2003; it’s impossible now.

    • Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” frames the intentional sabotage of Iraq’s remaining economy by the Bush carpetbaggers as the ultimate example of neoliberal destruction of mixed economies. She writes about how Iraqis were practically forbidden to get any industries on line to make goods to repair anything, because contractors friendly to the Bush Administration had already been given royal charters to rule those industries.

      • Ms. Klein’s book, cited by Super390, did an excellent job of highlighting everything that was wrong about the Bush-slash-neo con policy towards Iraq, from before the invasion until Bush, Cheney, et al, slunk out of office in 2008. As for Mr. Chalbi’s current loyalties, he’s always been a charlatan so he’ll slither up next to Iran for as long as he thinks it is in his best interests to do so.

        Dr. Cole has pointed out a number of key and very significant differences, Phil D, between Iraq and Libya, and why a Chalabi-type character is unlikely to come to any real power.

  4. There are reports of many black men,some handcuffed, being executed, even injured men in stretchers. All blacks, many of whom are migrant workers, are assumed to be mercenaries by the rebels. Arab Gadaffi loyalists have also been executed after capture, in Zawiyah as well as Tripoli. But since we’re allied with the rebels, these reports will be ignored and minimized. The details will remain sketchy and largely forgotten.

    • If that is so, that the details of such will remain sketchy and largely forgotten I hope for as much detail as can be obtained by bloggers, journalists, informers etc.. Not necessarily for the sake of criticizing the rebel cause mind you but rather to emphasize the obvious: Massacres and atrocities are not one sided during a revolution (legally sanctioned or otherwise) – even when it is assisted by NATO. Further such revelations might possibly have an beneficial impact on the future behavior of whatever political body comes to govern Libya.

    • “There are reports..” / Maybe, but there is no way to judge the reports and the information without some idea of where they come from. Could you please provide some link or source information?

      • Here are 2 articles from The Independent: Rebels Settle Scores in Libyan Capital by Kim Senguputa . Rebels Wreck Revenge on Dictator’s Men by Patrick Cockburn. Also google : both sides in Libya guilty of abuses, says Amnesty Int’l

    • According Al Jazeera’s Libya Blog, Human Rights Watch is on the ground in Tripoli. They are nonpartisan, and will report rebel atrocities when uncovered. I also notice that you supply no links. Not kosher. Here’s the Libya Blog.

      link to

  5. ‘The Libyan monarchy of King Idris, which was based in Benghazi, was installed by the United States and Britain in the 1950’s to oversee their economic and military interests in North Africa. Libya in 1952, under the leadership of King Idris, had among the lowest standard of living in the world. The Idris monarchy was overthrown in a bloodless revolution led by Muammar al-Gaddafi in 1969. This led to the American Wheelus Air Base (The largest American base outside of the US at that time) being dismantled and the American and British armed forces stationed in Libya evacuating. The western oil companies were then nationalised.

  6. Dear Prof. Cole,

    The mainstream press, like the New York Times, have been reporting on massacres on both sides. For once, the mainstream press seems not to push under the rug evidence that is inconvenient for U.S. policy.

    On the other hand, since the war is almost over, this is largely a moot point. Now, it’s easy to talk about what the rebels did in the past. One always learns new things about wars after-the-fact. For example, in 1992 we were told Iraqi civilians escaped harm thanks to miracle precision weapons. Later, UN surveys revealed 9,000 destroyed Iraqi homes, including entire populated city blocks in Basra blown up.

    I just have a difficult time believing that the thousands of soldiers on the government side who were killed were “bad” and the thousands on the rebel side who were killed were “good.”

    Things are a lot more complex than that, as confirmed by persistent reports of pillaging and revenge killings by the rebels.

    Best wishes,


    • Dear Behnam: Libya has been engulfed in the fog of war, and I’ve tried to find out what I could about what was going on. Human Rights Watch was on the ground and concluded that there just is *no* comparison between the scale of Qaddafi government atrocities and the occasional (condemnable) reprisal killings by the rebels. Saying that both sides engaged in the same behavior gives a completely wrong impression. The Himalayas and the Appalachias are both mountain ranges, but they aren’t the same height.

  7. Major quibble with Glenn Robinson, who says the length of the war was a positive factor. Viewed from a point of view from the construction industry, there is a huge amount of destruction to be repaired (when possible) or demolished, carted away, and replaced. Years of work awaits. Every day brings more destruction. As Sun Tzu wrote, “Weapons are tools of ill omen.” A shorter war would have been MUCH better.

  8. @Mohammed: this was the _justification_ for what was very widespread mistreatment of Shias in Saddam’s Iraq. Religious rights of all Shias, not just the Sadrites who were in the minority in any case. The war against Iran was not waged to stave off an Iraqi theocracy, and the Iranian theocracy did not start it. Shias of Iraq were deprived of employment rights, did not have access to equal medical care, and were the victims of mass slaughter, for which Saddam Hussein was justly convicted. It is unfortunate that this post seems to imply that it was Shia rule itself, rather than Sunni bigotry, that caused the civil war.

    Cole has been attracting some interesting characters here since his ‘turn’. Hope you enjoy your new company, Professor.

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