The Battle for Libya: Protecting the Civilians is NUMBER ONE Objective!

The Ottoman Turks conquered the country in the...Image via Wikipedia
A no-fly zone is not an objective per se: it  is merely a means to an end. So what is the objective? Protecting the civilian populations, stoopid!  In fact, the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is clear on that point: it allows for all "measures necessary to protect the civilian population".

I felt like saying "stoopid"  yesterday at my television set as I watched the unfolding battle for Libya and heard the comments. Perhaps the most surprising, and politically disturbing comment came from the Arab League, when its Secretary General, Amr Moussa, suddenly came out against the military intervention, lamenting the (mostly French) bombardments around Benghazi.

Those who surely didn't lament the bombardments were the opponents to Qaddafi's regime. You could see hundreds of cars streaming out of Benghazi on Sunday morning, bringing locals to stare at the bombed out  military vehicles along the road and gloat over them. They touched the twisted metal in awe and jumped on the tanks, waving flags. Those were a truly happy bunch of people! Because that is the first and foremost effect of the establishment of military intervention (even one such as this, where ground troops are specifically banned by the UN Resolution). It had the immediate effect of giving a psychological uplift to the Beghazi population put under siege by Qaddafi's troops.

The next day, at a press conference with UN Secretary general Banki Moon, Amr Moussa retreated from his earlier position but was at pain to underline that what the League wanted was NO bombardments on civilians.

Indeed, we all hope that there will be no civilian deaths. In two days, it would seem that the military intervention has already achieved its first main goal, the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya. It would also appear that there has been some sort of balancing between the forces in presence: the opponents to Qaddafi's regime to the East, i.e. in Cyrenaica, and his supporters to the West, in Tripolitania. Because - this may come as a surprise to some - Qaddafi does have some supporters and not all his soldiers are mercenaries (even though a lot are - and no wonder, considering he pays them $1,000 a day!). As to the third region of Libya, Fezzan to the south, nobody for the moment seems to be interested: it is largely a large, empty desert and (possibly) a political vacuum.

What will happen next? It's really up to the Libyans. A lot of talk is bandied about Libya as a "state" whose "unity" should be defended - I'm not sure why, because, historically, Libya is really made up three distinct regions (see map). And different tribes: yes, this is still a tribal country. The main tribe supporting Qaddafi is in Tripolitania (called al-Qaddafi) to which a couple more have added their allegiance. But the break with Qaddafi came mid-March when one of the more important tribes, the Warfalla who had been supporting him, declared Qaddafi was "no longer a brother".

Given these stresses and wide tribal differences, why shouldn't a Libyan federal solution be envisaged? I suppose such a solution might leave Qaddafi still in place, but in a much more restriced area, mostly around Tripoli. Now, that solution is not likely to please him since most of the oil fields - and oil wealth - are to the east, in Cyrenaica...So, although Qaddafi strenuously denies it and claims this war is the doing of foreign "crusaders", in actual fact it may well be a war he is waging to regain control of the oil fields in Libya...

Meanwhile the coalition is showing some cracks - and not only caused by the Arab League. Until now, the coordination of the military intervention has not been handed over to Nato, and that is something the Italians in particular, wanted. That's understandable: being closest to Libya and with seven airbases involved, they would like to see the international coalition broadening. So military coordination, at present, is largely in the hands of the Americans, but they are keeping it low-key, hoping that function will soon pass to the French and the British.

Why not Nato? Because of Germany, France and Turkey, all Nato members who, for various reasons, do not want to see Nato take over. The French don't because they are French; Germans because they have abstained on the UN Security Council Resolution (but Angela Merkel did go to the Elysée palace meeting two days ago and assured the Americans she would send troops to Afghanistan if the Americans needed it to free military power for Libya). Btw and just for the record, others who abstained were Russia, China, Brazil and India. And of course the Turks, because of their difficult diplomatic act, balancing themselves between the West and the Islamic world.

Which raises the question of who, if anyone, in the Arab League will actually come forward with help. So far it seems Qatar and UAE have done so, Qatar already providing some planes.

But calls grow in the international community for air strikes to stop, particularly from Russia and the African Union. Let's face it, these calls are nothing new. Russia had abstained from voting the UN Resolution and sees criticism of the West as a useful card to play to advance its status in Africa and elsewhere. In any case, we all know that Putin's Russia is no champion of democracy. As to the African Union, with the high number of Qaddafi-like dictators on that continent, it should come as no surprise that it supports a stop to intervention, and hence Qaddafi's regime. Ditto for Ugo Chavez in Venezuela.

What always surprises me is how these people have the gall to come out openly in defense of brutal dictatorial regimes - regimes that have given again and again evidence of oppression and bloody massacres. Surely no one in his right mind can defend Qaddafi? Unfortunately, a lot of people do.

I have no idea how this battle for Libya will play out, but I cling to the hope that the military intervention will only cause an absolute minimum of civilian deaths (military interventions are never entirely devoid of such tragic accidents - particularly if Qaddafi starts playing with civilians as human shields). If not, Qaddafi will have in his hands exactly what he has been looking for: the means to make his propaganda credible and turn the tables against...who? Us? No, alas, his aim is to turn the tables against the Benghazi people, the opponents of his regime, all those who hope that the Arab Spring has come here to stay!


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