Times 2

Support for Gaddafi soars amid NATO bombing on civilians

By Scott Taylor

The rebellion in Libya has been more of a media war than a full-scale armed clash. Sure, the rebels seized tanks and weapons from government troops in the early stages. This led to some skirmishes between rebels and Gaddafi loyalists in seesaw battles along Libya's coastal highway.

Between Feb. 15, when the uprising began, and March 19, when the UN Security Council authorized international intervention, the vast majority of Libya's foreign workers fled the country.

In those chaotic days, the British Foreign Ministry reported that President Moammar Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela. The rebels seemed poised to snatch a quick victory. But Gaddafi had no intention of fleeing and his shaken followers soon regained their composure and began mounting an effective defence against rebel advances.

Not being professional troops, the rebels were soon in a head-long retreat back to their eastern stronghold in the city of Ben-ghazi. To prevent Gaddafi from inflicting reprisals on the rebels, the UN authorized a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Libya to protect unarmed civilians from being bombed. That, of course, did not apply to civilians living in Gadhafi-controlled sectors, as the Canadian-led NATO coalition soon began mounting airstrikes against government targets.

For more than five months now NATO planes have supported the rebels, and NATO warships have enforced a one-sided arms embargo against Gadhafi's forces. And all foreign-held Libyan financial assets have been frozen, making it virtually impossible for Libya to purchase any war materiel, or even basic necessities such as fuel.

Despite all these measures, the ragtag collection of fractious units that compose the rebels have been unable to make any serious tactical headway against Gaddafi loyalists - let alone topple the dictator.
On a fact-finding trip into Tripoli last week, I saw first-hand that Gaddafi has solidified his control over the capital and most of western Libya. Foreign diplomats still based in Tripoli confirmed to me that, since NATO started bombing, Gaddafi support and approval ratings have actually soared to about 85 per cent.

2000 tribes behind Gaddafi

Of the 2,335 tribes in Libya, over 2,000 are still pledging their allegiance to the embattled president. At present, it is the gasoline shortage due to the embargo and lack of electricity from NATO's bombing that are causing the most hardship to Libyans inside Gadhafi-controlled sectors.

However, at present, the people still blame NATO — not Gaddafi — for the shortages. In an effort to combat that sentiment and to encourage a popular uprising against Gadhafi, NATO planes have taken to dropping leaflets in canisters over the streets of Tripoli.

Unfortunately for the NATO planning staff, the canisters are heavy enough to cause injury and damage roofs when they plummet to the ground.

As for the messages on the leaflets, the Libyans are quite amused at the clumsy translations. On one such note, the intended slogan is meant to urge civilians to go forward and "embrace" the rebels. Instead, it translates to encourage Libyans to go out and "copulate" with the rebels.

Another NATO missive was intended to advise those living within Gadhafi's sector to pack up and move to a rebel-occupied territory. This somehow became garbled into a request for citizens to relocate to a "possessed" (as in, by the devil) area of Libya.

It is possible that the continued embargo, shortage of fuel and downgrading of Libyan utilities will create a humanitarian crisis inside Gadhafi's Libya so severe that his followers have no choice but to turn on him for their own survival.

However, if that indeed transpires it will be impossible for the West to justify this as being a humanitarian intervention.

* Scott Taylor is an author and editor of Esprit de Corps magazine. Courtesy Chronicle Herald

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