Removing Gaddafi From Libyan Capital ‘Could Go On A Long Time’

While the regime of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi may be greatly weakened, he retains enough support among critical tribes and institutions, including parts of the Libyan military, to retain power in the capital, Tripoli, for some time to come, according to experts cited by the New York Times.

They caution that while the situation on the ground is still fluid, tribal loyalties remain an important indicator, and that there is no clear geographical dividing line between the opponents to Gaddafi and his supporters.

They suggest that eastern Libya, now under rebel control, was always the most rebellious part of the country and had been starved of funds and equipment by the regime. The region, known as Cyrenaica, was an Italian colony and the heartland of the Senussi tribe that produced the monarch, King Idris I, who was overthrown by Colonel Gaddafi and his army colleagues in 1969.

But these experts suggest that tribes in the other important areas of Libya — Tripolitania and Fezzan — still remain nominally loyal to the regime. The revolutionaries of 1969 came largely from three tribes — Gaddafi’s own Qadhadhifa tribe, the Magariha and the Warfalla — which had been subservient to the Senussis. [Ed. Note: See the post on Libya’s tribes here.]

The Warfalla are now wavering, with its leaders supporting the opposition, having been implicated in coup attempts in the 1990’s, but its other members split. The other two tribes “still seem loyal so far to the regime, in which they have vested interests,” said George Joffé, a scholar of North Africa at Cambridge University in England.

Other tribes in the areas of Fezzan and Tripolitania are “watching and waiting,” according to Joffé.

Another source of potential opposition might be the old Free Officers Movement, he added, an Arab nationalist group that carried out the 1969 coup but was subsequently marginalized by the Gaddafi regime.

“It’s quite clear that the army, some 45,000 strong, has split, but in exactly what proportions we don’t know,” Joffé said.

Gaddafi mistrusted the army and monitored its behavior carefully. He paid particular attention to the units in the rebellious east of the country, starving them of the best equipment and training, which he reserved to more loyal tribes and paramilitary units, said Shashank Joshi, an Associate Fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute, which specializes in the military.

“Gaddafi has retained significant elements of the army and lost the elements he was always afraid he could lose, those affiliated with tribes he had targeted,” Joshi said.

The discovery of large deposits of oil changed the old bargain among tribes and areas in Libya, and both required and enabled Gaddafi to build more of a centralized state to fully exploit the resource, said Jean-Yves Moisseron, editor in chief of the French-based magazine “Maghreb-Machrek,” which concentrates on the Arab world.

Oil revenues also enabled Colonel Gaddafi to spread the wealth among tribes, reducing traditional conflicts, Moisseron said, and to build up a well equipped paramilitary system loyal to the regime.

At the same time, Gaddafi established other military and paramilitary units, like the 32d Brigade, based in Tripoli and commanded by one of his sons, Khamis. That brigade, which is known as the “deterrent brigade,” is used for internal repression and is backed up by foreign mercenaries. Its size is not clear, but it is said to be equipped with advanced arms and munitions and trained by outsiders.

In addition, Gaddafi also set up the Revolutionary Committee Movement, itself a paramilitary unit mostly drawn from the same three reliable tribes, the Warfalla, the Qadhadhifa and the Magariha, which was used to terrify opponents with revolutionary justice.

Gaddafi retains significant strength. While there have been clashes in Tripoli, with sniper and small-arms fire in areas of the capital. Tripoli “is not a war zone and not a city in rebellion,” Joshi said.

The fight to remove Gaddafi “could go on a long time.”

Complete article via New York Times

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