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“We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
NATO’s war in Libya, which began with high-minded declarations about “protecting civilians,” now appears likely to end in a bloodbath that will claim the lives of many civilians, albeit pro-Gaddafi civilians, not the earlier threatened anti-Gaddafi civilians.
Ali Tarhouni, a senior official of the NATO-backed Libyan rebels, summed up this Orwellian reality with a phrase reminiscent of the famous Vietnam War quote that “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
Tarhouni was quoted by the Associated Press as saying “Sometimes to avoid bloodshed you must shed blood – and the faster we do this the less blood will be shed.”
So, NATO’s rebels set a four-day deadline for Muammar Gaddafi’s remaining tribal strongholds, including his native Sirte, to surrender or face a final crushing military strike, which the rebels presumably will mount as NATO aircraft pound Sirte’s defenses.
NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie explained that NATO still considered Gaddafi as a threat and thus NATO’s warplanes were still attacking his forces, especially on “a corridor to the eastern edge of Sirte.”
In other words, even though Gaddafi’s loyalists have retreated to a few towns where he appears to retain strong popular support, NATO is paving the way for the rebels to overrun these communities. The mission “to protect civilians” has evolved into an operation designed to open pro-Gaddafi civilians to a hostile conquest.
New evidence also has surfaced showing that Gaddafi’s earlier claims that the rebel forces were permeated by Islamist extremists with terrorist affiliations were not just words, that he had reason and evidence to believe it.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that “documents unearthed from the archives of Libya’s security service show the former government deeply worried about an Islamist threat to the regime, concerns that reverberated this week as veteran jihadists claimed credit for leading last week’s rebel takeover of Tripoli.”
In an article by Thomas Erdbrink and Joby Warrick, the Post said it had obtained documents revealing that Gaddafi had assigned his Interior Security Agency to monitor the actions of Islamic extremists, including some who had fought against the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“In the records, Libyan security officials elaborately map the movements of suspected al-Qaeda fighters and regularly share information on Islamist cells with foreign intelligence agencies,” the Post reported, noting that some of these jihadists have now emerged as key fighters in ousting Gaddafi from power.
“The regime fell to rebel fighters led in part by a self-proclaimed former Islamist, Abdelkarim Belhadj,” the Post wrote. “He has declared himself the leader of the ‘Tripoli Brigade’ that spearheaded the defeat of Gaddafi loyalists in the capital.”
Belhadj was previously the commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which has been associated with al-Qaeda in the past, maintained training bases in Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks, and was listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
Though Belhadj and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group deny current allegiance to al-Qaeda, Belhadj was arrested in Afghanistan in 2004 and was briefly interrogated by the CIA in Thailand at a “black site” prison before being handed over to Libyan authorities, the Post reported.
Concerns about violent jihadists in the ranks of NATO’s Libyan rebels are not entirely new. In March, as NATO was ramping up its aerial campaign against Gaddafi’s government, there were warnings – both from Gaddafi and from independent terrorism experts – about this infiltration. However, amid the excitement about overthrowing Gaddafi, those concerns were suppressed.
For all his eccentric behavior and past links to terrorism, Gaddafi had become a staunch enemy of radical Islamists, explaining why his regime was embraced by President George W. Bush last decade. Both leaders had mutual enemies.
Similarly, Syria’s embattled dictator Bashar al-Assad has been another bulwark against Islamic extremism inside his country’s borders, in part, because Islamic fundamentalists despise Assad’s Alawite religion, considering it a form of apostasy that must be stamped out.
As analysts Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman wrote in a report for West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, “the Syrian and Libyan governments share the United States’ concerns about violent salafi‐jihadi ideology and the violence perpetrated by its adherents.”
In their report titled “Al-Qaeda’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq,” Felter and Fishman analyzed al-Qaeda documents captured in 2007 showing personnel records of militants who flocked to Iraq for the war. The documents revealed that eastern Libya (the base of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion) was a hotbed for suicide bombers traveling to Iraq to kill American troops.
Felter and Fishman wrote that these so-called Sinjar Records disclosed that while Saudis comprised the largest number of foreign fighters in Iraq, Libyans represented the largest per-capita contingent by far. Those Libyans came overwhelmingly from towns and cities in the east.
“The vast majority of Libyan fighters that included their hometown in the Sinjar Records resided in the country’s Northeast, particularly the coastal cities of Darnah 60.2% (53) and Benghazi 23.9% (21),” Felter and Fishman wrote, adding:
“Both Darnah and Benghazi have long been associated with Islamic militancy in Libya, in particular for an uprising by Islamist organizations in the mid‐1990s. … One group — the Libyan Fighting Group … — claimed to have Afghan veterans in its ranks,” a reference to mujahedeen who took part in the CIA-backed anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, as did al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, a Saudi.
“The Libyan uprisings [in the 1990s] became extraordinarily violent,” Felter and Fishman wrote. “Qadhafi used helicopter gunships in Benghazi, cut telephone, electricity, and water supplies to Darnah and famously claimed that the militants ‘deserve to die without trial, like dogs,’”
The authors added that Abu Layth al‐Libi, Emir of Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), “reinforced Benghazi and Darnah’s importance to Libyan jihadis in his announcement that LIFG had joined al‐Qa’ida.
“‘It is with the grace of God that we were hoisting the banner of jihad against this apostate [Gaddafi] regime under the leadership of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which sacrificed the elite of its sons and commanders in combating this regime whose blood was spilled on the mountains of Darnah, the streets of Benghazi, the outskirts of Tripoli, the desert of Sabha, and the sands of the beach.’”
Libyans with al-Qaeda
Some important al-Qaeda leaders operating in Pakistan’s tribal regions also are believed to have come from Libya. For instance, “Atiyah,” who was guiding the anti-U.S. war strategy in Iraq (and was recently reported killed by a U.S. drone strike), was identified as a Libyan named Atiyah Abd al-Rahman.
It was Atiyah who urged a strategy of creating a quagmire for U.S. forces in Iraq, buying time for al-Qaeda headquarters to rebuild its strength in Pakistan. “Prolonging the war [in Iraq] is in our interest,” Atiyah said in a letter that upbraided Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for his hasty and reckless actions in Iraq.
As in the anti-Islamist crackdown of the 1990s, Gaddafi used harsh rhetoric in vowing to crush the Benghazi-based rebellion when it began earlier this year. Those threats were cited by President Barack Obama and other Western leaders as a key reason for securing a United Nations resolution and establishing a no-fly zone over Libya “to protect civilians” in eastern Libya.
In a personal letter to Obama, Gaddafi cited the role of terrorists in this new uprising.
“We are confronting al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, nothing more,” Gaddafi wrote. “What would you do if you found them controlling American cities with the power of weapons? Tell me how would you behave so that I could follow your example?” (Obama did not respond.)
Today, however, the tables have been turned on Gaddafi. After months of U.S.-guided NATO airstrikes incinerating his troops and battering his defenses in Tripoli, he has been driven from power by the rebels. His remaining loyalists have fled to Sirte and a few other Gaddafi strongholds.
If these loyalists don’t surrender to the rebels, Belhadj and other jihadists are likely to spearhead the final assaults – again backed by NATO airstrikes. The troops and civilians still loyal to Gaddafi don’t expect much mercy.
Or, in the words of rebel leader Tarhouni, “sometimes to avoid bloodshed you must shed blood.”
The Libyan travesty is a repeat of the Balkan intervention and the civilian bloodbath in Iraq. There is nothing new in NATO's terrorist tactics except perhaps the flagrance and openness with which it commits its crimes today.
The criminals that rule us are becoming more bold and less concerned about public opinion and legal consequences and that situation bodes very badly for all of us.
September 1st is the anniversary of an event little known in the West. Today, twenty years on, the people who deserve to be celebrating it, are instead enduring a war. Yet the achievement changed their lives greatly and merits recognition.
A tap was turned on in Libya. From an enormous ancient aquifer, deep below the Sahara Desert, fresh water began to flow north through 1200 kilometres of pipeline to the coastal areas where 90% of Libyan people live, delivering around one million cubic metres of pure water per day to the cities of Benghazi and Sirte.
Crowds gathered in the desert for the inaugural ceremony. Phase I of the largest civil engineering venture in the world, the Great Man-made River Project, had been completed.
It was during the 1953 search for new oilfields in southern Libya that the ancient water aquifers were first discovered, four huge basins with estimated capacities each ranging between 4,800 and 20,000 cubic kms. Yes, that's cubic kilometres. There is so much water that Libya had recently also offered it to Egypt for their needs.
After the bloodless revolution of 1969, also on September 1, the new government nationalised the oil companies and spent much of the oil revenues to harness the supply of fresh water from the desert aquifers by putting in hundreds of bore wells. Muammar Gaddafi's dream was to provide fresh water for everyone, and to turn the desert green, making Libya self-sufficient in food production. He established large farms and encouraged the people to move to the desert. But many preferred life on the coast and wouldn't go.
So Gaddafi next conceived a plan to bring the water to the people. Feasibility studies were carried out by the Libyan government in the seventies and in 1983 the Great Man-made River Authority was set up. The project began the following year, fully funded by the Libyan government. The almost $30 billion cost to date has been without the need of any international loans. Nor has there been any charge on the people, who do not pay for their reticulated water, which is regarded in Libya to be a human right and therefore free.
GMMR Project figures are staggering. The 'rivers' are a 4000-kilometre network of 4m diameter lined concrete pipes, buried below the desert sands to prevent evaporation. There are 1300 wells, 500,000 sections of pipe, 3700 kms of haul roads, and 250 million cubic metres of excavation. All material for the project was locally manufactured. Large reservoirs provide storage, and pumping stations control the flow into the cities. The pipeline first reached Tripoli in 1996 and when Phase V is completed, the water will allow about 155,000 hectares of land to be cultivated.
To achieve all this, construction work was tendered and many overseas companies, including from US, Korea, Turkey, Britain, Japan and Germany took up contracts for each Phase, and some have worked for decades in Libya. The project has not been without problems, including faulty materials and financial difficulties within some of the contracting firms. Since the NATO air attacks on Libya began in March, most foreign nationals have returned home, including those employed on the hydro scheme. The final phase of the Great Man-made River Project is stalled.
Libyan people put their hearts into work on the GMMRP from the beginning, and years ago took on most of the managerial and technical positions as their expert knowledge increased, with government policy encouraging their education, training and employment. They proudly call the GMMR "the eighth wonder of the world."
(UN Human Development Index figures for Libya since the beginning of Gaddafi's influence can be found here.)
The project was so well recognised internationally that UNESCO in 1999 accepted Libya's offer to fund an award named after it, the Great Man-Made River International Water Prize , the purpose of which is to "reward remarkable scientific research work on water usage in arid areas".
Gaddafi was often ridiculed in the West for persevering with such an ambitious project. Pejorative terms such "pipedream", "pet project" and "mad dog" appeared in UK and US media. Despite a certain amount of awe for the enormity of the construction, the Great Man-made River was often dismissed as a "vanity project" and then rarely mentioned in western media. But truth is, it's a world class water delivery system, and often visited by overseas engineers and planners wanting to learn from Libyan expertise in water transfer hydro-engineering.
On 22 July this year, four months into the air strikes to "protect civilians", NATO forces hit the GMMR water supply pipeline. For good measure the following day, NATO destroyed the factory near Brega that produces the pipes to repair it, along with killing six guards there.
NATO air strikes on the electricity supply, as well as depriving civilians of electricity, mean that water pumping stations are no longer operating in areas even where the pipelines remain intact. Water supply for the 70% of the population who depend on the piped supply has been compromised with this damage to Libya's vital infrastructure.
Oh, and by the way, attacking essential civilian infrastructure is a war crime.
Today in Sirte, which along with Benghazi was one of the first two cities to receive the water, there should be a celebration to mark the twenty years since fresh reticulated water first came to their city, and Gaddafi's vision should be honoured.
But today Sirte is encircled by the rebels, and right now is being carpet bombed by NATO. The civilians are terrorised, and many families have tried to flee. But the rebels block all the exits, they kill the men, and send the women and children back into the city to be bombed. In the media the rebels are reported to have given Sirte until Saturday to surrender before they commence a full attack. But that's not what's happening really.
September 1, 2011, will be remembered in history for NATO's complicity in the massacre of the people of Sirte.
Back in 1991, at the gala opening of GMMRP Phase I, and maybe recalling the 1986 bombing of his home (which was carried out by US military on Reagan's orders), Muammar Gaddafi spoke these words to the invited international dignitaries and assembled crowd:
"After this achievement, American threats against Libya will double .... The United States will make excuses, (but) the real reason is to stop this achievement, to keep the people of Libya oppressed."