[Marxism] Behind Tripoli’s sudden fall
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Sep 1 07:42:16 MDT 2011
(It seems that they were more afraid of rebel militias than NATO
Tripoli’s sudden fall revealed rotten heart of Gaddafi’s regime
By Simon Denyer and Leila Fadel, Published: August 31
TRIPOLI, Libya — They were elite, professionally trained troops
guarding a critical source of the regime’s power: the headquarters
of Libya’s propaganda-spewing state television.
But when unarmed protesters took to the streets, the feared
guards, members of brigades known as Katibas, simply took off
their uniforms, lay down their weapons and ran.
“Underneath their uniforms, they had civilian clothes, jeans and
T-shirts, as though they were expecting this,” said Badr Ben
Jered, a 25-year-old employee in Nokia’s marketing division,
patrolling his neighborhood with a Kalashnikov rifle. “Then people
started screaming, ‘The Katiba are running! The Katiba are
running!’ We were so shocked, and still so scared of them, no one
even went after them.”
The guns have been collected, but abandoned uniforms still litter
the ground around the television station and elsewhere in Tripoli,
evidence of a gigantic loss of nerve, the sudden crumbling of a
regime built on brutality and fear.
Its rapid disintegration Aug. 20 and 21 suggests that support for
Moammar Gaddafi was far more shallow than the government had
portrayed over the course of the six-month uprising.
But the way many of Gaddafi’s supporters just melted away into the
night also prompts concern about whether some die-hard loyalists
are simply lying low, waiting for the day they can regroup and
launch their own insurgency.
Elements of the former government have already signaled their
continued defiance. Gaddafi’s most influential son, Saif al-Islam,
issued a statement to a Syrian-owned satellite television channel
Wednesday in which he urged followers to fight to the death
against the Transitional National Council, the new de facto
government of Libya.
“We assure people we are here, ready and in good shape. Resistance
is continuing, and victory is near,” he said. He boasted that
20,000 fighters loyal to his father — who is still at large —
remain in the Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte.
And yet, when it came time to battle the rebels for control of
Tripoli, the Gaddafi government did not put up much of a fight.
Since February, when the uprising began, there was a gradual
hollowing out of the regime from within that seems to have finally
precipitated its collapse.
For months, many state employees had not been turning up for work
— some because the government had ceased to function properly, but
many because they were simply boycotting the regime.
One of the key defections was that of Mohammed al-Barani Eshkal,
who commanded the brigade guarding the television station and was
charged with protecting Gaddafi in his main Bab al-Aziziya compound.
Eshkal had played a finely nuanced game, working for the Libyan
leader while simultaneously assuring the rebels that if their
fighters arrived at the gates of the capital, he would instruct
his men to lay down their weapons. That is exactly what happened,
according to rebel officials in Benghazi.
Operation Mermaid Dawn
Rebel commanders — working in conjunction with NATO — had long
been plotting an uprising of Tripoli residents to coincide with an
opposition advance into the capital.
The start of Operation Mermaid Dawn was set for Aug. 20, the
six-month mark of the uprising in Tripoli and the 20th day of the
Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The day is symbolic among Muslims
because it marks the anniversary of the prophet Muhammad’s
entrance into Mecca to retake his home town.
“The day was studied carefully based on the deterioration of
Gaddafi’s power in Tripoli, and as we got closer to the capital,
we chose the day for its symbolism,” said Mustafa Sagazly, the
deputy interior minister for the rebel government.
Outside Tripoli, the military tide had turned sharply against
Gaddafi in mid-August with the fall of the eastern city of Zlitan
and the garrison mountain town of Gharyan. But the critical rebel
victory came about in the gateway city of Zawiyah, which cost
Gaddafi his last oil refinery and his coastal lifeline to Tunisia.
Attempts by Gaddafi’s forces to reinforce Zawiyah and Gharyan from
Tripoli were spotted by NATO and quashed with airstrikes, said a
NATO official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. Then
government checkpoints on the way to the capital also were struck.
“We knew we had to come from the east, west and south,” said Fathi
Baja, the head of political affairs for the rebel council. “We
designed the plan in connection with NATO so they could start the
operation by hitting the checkpoints.”
News of Zawiyah’s fall turned the mood in Tripoli, as residents
who had endured 42 years of Gaddafi rule realized that his defeat
was within reach.
Rebel officials in Benghazi said underground dissidents, as well
as lawyers, journalists, doctors and drivers, were primed to bring
people out on the streets, with armed sleeper cells ready to do
On the afternoon of Aug. 20, a Friday, young men took over the
microphone at a Tripoli mosque to broadcast a message to Gaddafi’s
“Raise the white flag and nobody will touch you,” one young man
proclaimed, according to residents who heard the announcement.
“Lay down your arms, and I promise you we will break our fast
together this evening. We are all Libyans. We don’t want to kill
you, we don’t want to hurt you. How many are you going to kill?
10? 20? 30? You can’t kill us all.”
A homemade video shows young men cautiously making their way onto
the streets in the capital’s Zawiyat al-Dahmani district.
Machine-gun fire crackles, and they briefly retreat, but soon they
are advancing again.
Gradually the streets start to fill, and the red, black and green
rebel flag emerges from people’s homes.
When rebels streamed into the capital Aug. 21 and 22 from Misurata
to the east and Zawiyah to the west, they found many districts
“liberated,” even if there was still fierce fighting ahead to
overtake the Bab al-Aziziya compound and loyalist neighborhoods
such as Abu Salim.
“I thought most of us would die,” said Mohammed Fallah, 23, a
rebel fighter. “We thought there would be a lot of blood in
Tripoli, but we were very surprised, very happy at what happened
Fallah said Gaddafi’s troops had put up a far less potent fight
than he had expected. “I thought, ‘Is that all Gaddafi can do?’ He
was the bogeyman, but once the people of Tripoli got over their
fear, they found themselves free.”
Hard-core government loyalists were surprised, too, at how quickly
the city fell.
In the Rixos hotel, Moussa Ibrahim, a Gaddafi spokesman, left with
his entourage Aug. 21. Today, in what was once his room, an open
suitcase and his infant son’s toys lie scattered on the ground,
evidence that his wife did not even have time to pack as she ran
out of the hotel, her son in her arms.
‘Please forgive me’
More than a week after Tripoli fell, the bulk of Gaddafi’s
remaining forces appear to have regrouped in his home town and
tribal stronghold of Sirte.
But they are also in Tripoli. Some, no doubt, are preparing for
battles to come; others have begun to curry favor with the very
people they once subjugated.
Hamza Mhani, a prisoner under Gaddafi, recalled watching on the
night of Aug. 20 as prison guards shed their uniforms, stashed
weapons in the trunks of their vehicles and drove away before they
could be vanquished by the rebels.
One guard, whom Mhani describes as the most conspicuously loyal to
Gaddafi, stopped to free the prisoners.
“He was crying and saying, ‘Please forgive me,’ ” Mhani said.
As the guard unlocked the cells, Mhani said, he repeated again and
again: “I am now doing what was always in my head to do.”
Fadel reported from Benghazi. Correspondent Michael Birnbaum in
Cairo contributed to this report.
More information about the Marxism