Muammar al-Gaddafi – the world’s current longest serving non-monarchical leader in the world, having ruled Libya since seizing power in a 1969 coup – vowed on Feb. 15 to fight anti-government demonstrations with his “last drop” of blood, intending to “die a martyr.”
With the dictator ordering both the military and police to quash protests within Libya, the full-scale war against reformists began.
Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, has become the stronghold of the anti-government revolt, after rebels liberated the city and repelled an early Gaddafi offensive, which began on Feb. 18 in response to the national “Day of Rage” on the previous day.
Gadaffi had hired African mercenaries to fire live ammunition on unarmed demonstrators. The mercenaries have been allegedly shooting citizens indiscriminately, including women and children, with rooftop-garrisoned snipers aiming to kill.
Libya’s military appears divided, with Gaddafi loyalists firing on protesters and horrified soldiers defecting en mass. In Benghazi, Libyan soldiers are defending beleaguered protesters, fighting mercenaries and pro-Gaddafi forces in the streets, and arming able demonstrators. Army officials across the country, including Abdul-Fatah Younis, the Interior Minister and an army general, have defected, calling for the Gaddafi’s resignation. Libyan diplomats to the US, the UN, and the Arabic League have also defected, calling for international intervention in what Ibrahim Dabbashi, Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, has called a “genocide against the Libyan people.”
In a statement, the United Nations Security Council “condemned the violence and use of force against civilians,” and called for Libya to “meet its responsibility to protect its population.”
Pro-democracy forces currently claim to control a significant portion of the country, including much of eastern Libya.
Neither Gaddafi nor protesters show any signs of relenting as the fighting has spread from Eastern Libya toward the Gaddafi-controlled Tripoli. Gaddafi launched a March 6 offensive, accompanied by air strikes from the Libyan Air Force, stalling rebel advances in the oil-producing cities of Ras Lanuf and Brega. Rebel resistance – largely inexperienced and out-gunned by Gaddafi’s professional soldiers – has been crushed in Az Zawiyah while Misurata, Ras Lanuf, and Brega, have seen heavy skirmishes. The Gaddafi offensive has begun marching towards Benghazi, the birthplace of the Libyan revolution.
Al Jazeera reported on March 11 that the Military Supreme Council, “a leadership body of the military commanders who are with the rebels, is currently attempting to structure the rebels response and to ensure that they are deployed tactically”.
The Libyan rebels have appealed to the international community for the implementation of a no-fly zone to halt Gaddafi’s use of air strikes on the rebels.
On March 11, France and England began pushing for full recognition of the Libyan National Council as the rightful government of Libya and for a no-fly zone, with unconfirmed reports stating that French president Nicholas Sarkozy supports targeted air strikes against strategic targets in Tripoli.
Germany issued caution, with Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s foreign minister, advising on Friday, “I would first like to know how the countries in the region and the Arab League see it before we in Europe once more form our own definitive opinion before everyone else.” As of this writing, no international intervention has yet been exercised.
A March 2 Libyan Human Rights League estimate found 6,000 Libyans have died since Gaddafi’s crackdown. The recent offensive has only exacerbated this death toll.
Iman Bugaigis, a media officer with the rebel February 17 Coalition in Benghazi, told reporters, “If they implement a no-fly zone we will ask for other things. Even if they do not implement it, we will fight. There is no return for us. This nation will not bear both of us. It is us or [Gaddafi’s] family. After what happened in Zawiyah, how can we live with this person?”