The regime of Muammar Gaddafi has escalated its violence against rebel forces seeking to bring it down.
On March 6, opponents of the regime were reported to be in control of several cities, especially in Libya’s east.
AlJazeera.net said on March 4 that anti-government protests in the capital, Tripoli, had been met with tear gas by security forces.
Opponents said Az Zawiyah, a town just 40 kilometres from Tripoli that is home to an oil refinery, was mostly under rebel control.
However, a regime spokesperson told AlJazeera.net on March 5 that government forces had retaken the town.
AlJazeera.net reported on March 5: “At least 30 civilians have been killed after security forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, attempted to retake the rebel-held town of Az Zawiyah.”
There are reports that Gaddafi’s forces have bombed eastern cities under rebel control.
AlJazeera said heavy battles were raging for control of strategic cities. “Heavy shelling and machine gun fire has been reported near Ras Lanuf, the eastern oil port located 660km from Tripoli,” it said.
“Reuters said rebels fired a sustained barrage of mortar bombs and rockets at a military base in Ras Lanuf on Friday, which was met with artillery fire from the army.”
Associated Press reported on March 5 that internet access had been cut across Libya.
Gaddafi has made it clear in public statements that he intends to use whatever force possible to save his crumbling regime. His bizarre rants against his opponents have included allegations that Al Qaeda has spiked the milk and coffee drunk by Libyan youth with hallucinogenic drugs.
As the death toll mounts, Western governments — many of which have enjoyed close ties to the Gaddafi regime — have raised the prospect of a military intervention into Libya.
However, the The Australian reported that NATO was divided on the issue of using military force. There appears no clear consensus on whether this is the best tactic to ensure a stable pro-West regime in the oil-rich nation.
Opponents of Gaddafi from within Libya have made repeated statements expressing opposition to a Western intervention.
In the article below, Peter Boyle looks at what is wrong with the idea that Western powers could be a saviour of the Libyan people.
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As soon as significant oil reserves were discovered in Libya in 1959, Western powers moved in to grab the lion’s share.
The British propped up a corrupt monarchy with arms supplies and the US maintained a giant military base in the country.
The 1969 nationalist revolution led by Muammar Gaddafi and other junior military officers nationalised the oil holdings of Esso (now Exxon), Shell, and Ente Nazionale Idrocarbuno (ENI).
The US government contemplated military intervention in response, but pulled back on the advice of the oil companies who preferred to cut a deal.
After another round of oil nationalisations in the 1980s, the US government imposed economic sanctions and bombed Libya.
When the Gaddafi regime made peace with the Western powers in the early 2000s, Western oil companies greedily rushed back — as did arms dealers.
Now these same Western powers want to pose as the saviours of the Libyan people, trying to rob them of victory in a new revolution for democracy.
No thanks, say some of Libya’s new revolutionaries, AFP reported on March 1.
The article reported: “‘The Iraqi example scares everyone in the Arab world,’ said Abeir Imneina, a professor of political sciences at the University of Benghazi.
“‘We know very well what happened in Iraq, which is in the throes of instability. Following in those footsteps is not appealing at all,’ she said.
“‘We don’t want the Americans to come and then to have to regret (the end of the rule of) Gaddafi,’ she added.
“The national fibre appears strong in Libya, where on Sunday Gaddafi opponents announced the creation of ‘national councils’ in all freed cities, that would serve as the ‘face of Libya in the transitional period’.
“In a clear signal of their intentions, the revolution’s spokesman said Libya’s people would liberate cities across the oil rich North African nation and leave the task of freeing the capital Tripoli to the army …
“Ghoqa also rejected the need for ‘any foreign intervention or military operation’."
The article quoted Fethi Terbil, a lawyer whose arrest sparked the revolt, saying activists would accept nothing “that would undermine sovereignty”. Terbil said: “We would accept a no-fly zone but not economic sanctions that would penalise the people.”
Reuters reported on March 1: “Western powers have plentiful military resources at their disposal if they want to bring Muammar Gaddafi down, but overt action is unlikely unless there is a dramatic worsening of the turmoil in Libya.
“The Italian port of Naples, 900 km (540 miles) from Tripoli by sea, is home to the U.S. Sixth Fleet, and NATO has an anti-terrorist task force on permanent patrol in the Mediterranean.
“While the United States currently has no aircraft carrier in the immediate region, it and NATO could use a wide range of air bases in Europe, including in Italy, Cyprus and Malta, as well as another major naval base in Portugal.
“NATO also has the theoretical capability of deploying 25,000 ground troops at short notice.
“‘There is no question of the capability to perform such operations,’ said Shashank Joshi, of London’s Royal United Services Institute, a think tank.
“‘Compared with say Iraq, we are talking about a very specific area and incredible legions of resources to draw from.
“‘The Mediterranean is an ideal platform — the southern plank of Europe essentially serves as a giant aircraft carrier, so in that respect things are reasonably straightforward,’ he said, adding that Libyan air defences were fairly poor.”
The Toronto Star reported on March 1 that a journey through rebel-held parts of Libya revealed strong anti-intervention sentiments.
“There is concern also about U.S. military assets mustering off Libya’s northern coast, and worries both in Washington and here that any U.S.-led effort to tip the Libyan standoff in favour of the rebels could backfire.
“American intervention, if it were ever to involve actual boots on the ground, could sully the sanctity of a Libya’s do-it-yourself revolution and, in a worst-case scenario, inadvertently embroil the U.S. in a third Mideast conflict, even as it moves to extract itself from two it can ill-afford …
“‘Help is good. But help in order for us to finish the revolution ourselves. Nobody wants foreign soldiers,’ said Mustapha Muttardi, a frontline Benghazi activist … ‘It feels damn good … But we need to complete it on our own terms …’”
So far, the only people from the rebel side who have been quoted encouraging Western military intervention of some kind are a couple of former Gaddafi regime officials who defected to the revolution.
However, The New York Times said on March 2 that the rebel’s revolutionary committees are still discussing the question.
Perhaps the loud noise about Western military intervention is designed to pressure the rump of the Gaddafi regime into minimising its resistance.
Libyans are no strangers to Western gunboat (or warplane) diplomacy. It is a frequently used weapon of the richest and most powerful states.
Key figures are still not certain that military intervention would suit the West’s imperial interest. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has urged caution — as has former Pentagon and US State Department official Kori Schake (now a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and an associate professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point).
Whatever Western powers finally decide, with the price of oil shooting up, they are most concerned about protecting the oil installations in Libya.
Western powers’ belated concern for the plight of Libya’s people and the impoverished guest workers from around the world trapped in Libya (most of the rich Western guest workers have escaped) is just a pretence.
Libyans will remember that just yesterday, these same Western powers were arming and training the Gaddafi regime’s special forces and police.
The Western powers want only Libya’s oil. And possibly a restored US military base or two.