Politics & Policy

What’s Happening in Libya?

Today, fighting in Libya surrounds the seaport city of Brega. This has been a major center for conflict in the past several weeks, with Qaddafi loyalists taking the town — once a locus of protest — last week. Today, reports suggest that after heavy fighting, and enabled by air support, rebel, anti-Qaddafi fighters have retaken Brega. An Al Jazeera correspondent described the scene:

 

Well, we’re crouched down on this hill with some of the anti-government forces, we’re just six kilometres from the main old oil town of Brega just over the top of this hill. 

“We’ve been seeing a lot of plumes of smoke and hearing a lot of rocket attacks. I’m being told – not confirmed, but I’m being told – there are two fronts going on at the moment. One … where the university is, and one … where there is an industrial complex. Anti-government forces did start the day pushing the Gaddafi forces back further and further, but currently the situation is that the fighting is still going on for the town of Brega.

“They have managed to clear … the new town of Brega, which is a little bit further across east up the coast. We have been seeing a lot of people streaming out of that town, talking about how the shelling overnight has been constant from the Gaddafi forces, and really wanting to escape. Lots of children and families, with their goods piled on the back of their cars. The first time they’ve been able to get out of Brega was today.

“We have seen some extra weapons coming in today, what looked like very different weapons from what we’ve seen before, some sort of cylindrical multi-rocket launchers. They look like they came off aircraft, I’m told by people who know a bit more than I do that they look like they were attached to possibly helicopters, and have been fashioned and modified to sit on the back of pick up trucks. 

“Also, obviously, the main thing here is that the Gaddafi forces are being pushed back by the air strikes. We’ve heard … aircraft overhead all day today, whether they’ve made much of a difference, during the day we’re not sure, but certainly commanders were telling us earlier on today that overnight they did help them manage to push into Brega.”

 

Now, several sources are reporting that rebels have effectively taken control of Brega. 

The most significant scuttlebutt of the weekend was that two of Qaddafi’s sons, Saif and Saadi, are offering to usher their father out of leadership, and themselves oversee a transition to constitutional democracy. This plan likely won’t satisfy rebel groups, who would naturally be highly suspicious of any power remaining within the Qaddafi family, but is nonetheless being discussed by diplomats in London. Saif once had sympathizers in the West, as his PhD from the LSE (whose authenticity is now doubted), and western-friendly and democratic rhetoric led many to believe he would be a possible source for future Libyan reform. But his speeches on Libyan state T.V., in which he said that no mercy would be shown to Libyan protesters, besmirched that reputation.

Meanwhile, the United States is supposedly stepping away from its leading role in the assaults on Qaddafi loyalists today. Britain, France, Italy, and NATO forces generally are expected to start bearing a heavier load.

At the same time, there are disturbing reports of infighting and general rag-tag disorganization among the Libyan rebel leadership.

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