[Marxism] Behind Tripoli’s sudden fall

Louis Proyect 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 
the fighting.

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.

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