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Juan Cole, Informed Comment: Rebels Consolidate Control over Tripoli as Qaddafi’s Mass Killings Discovered

Rebels Consolidate Control over Tripoli as Qaddafi’s Mass Killings Discovered
by Juan Cole, August 28, 2011

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.

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