There are few things certain in Libya but as of this weekend the rebels knew they had struck a major blow to the Gadhafi regime.
On Sunday, news broke that Libyan rebels had taken down the military strongholds blocking the country’s capitol city of Libya. According to the government, over 1,300 people were killed within 12 hours as the rebels moved into the city. There has been no outside verification of that number, but reports of bloodshed have grown over the past several days. For over six months the rebels have been fighting to overturn the autocratic rule of Moammar Gadhafi. During that time- from around Valentine’s Day to now– the rebels have protested, taken several major cities, received NATO and US assistance and taken major blows.
Perhaps it was the latter of those activities coupled with the S&P downgrade that caused the rebel’s quest to fall off the news agenda here in the states in the past few weeks, but they were top of the hour this weekend as they regained the momentum in their campaign.
According to The Associated Press:
Libyan rebels who raced into Tripoli on Sunday met little resistance as Gadhafi’s defenders melted away and his 42-year authoritarian rule quickly crumbled. Euphoric fighters celebrated with residents of the capital in Green Square, the symbolic heart of the fading regime. Gadhafi’s whereabouts were unknown, though state TV broadcast his bitter pleas for Libyans to defend his regime.
The rebels caputured Seif al-Islam, one of Gadhafi’s sons who is facing criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. Opposition leaders said they were in contact with another of the dictator’s sons negotiating him turning himself in.
Still, the man who has ruled Libya with an iron fist for decades remains in the wind and U.S. officials say they do not know where he is. The U.S. and the E.U. came out in clear support of the rebels last week, declaring their coalition, the Transitional National Council, as the legitimate government of Libya. President Obama gave a statement on the developments in Libya saying:
“Tonight, the momentum against the Gadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The Gadhafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.”
Though this weekend served as a pivotal moment in the rebel’s campaign, many say that the true test for Libya lies in the days ahead. Pointing out that the rebels had killed Abdul Fatah Younes, the chief of staff of their own military forces over allegations of being a spy, Babak Dehghanpisheh writer for The Daily Beast says that the rebel forces may not be ready to lead.
If rebel fighters are willing to kill one of their own commanders with scant evidence of wrongdoing, it’s not much of a stretch to think that they will go on a killing spree when they hit Tripoli, taking revenge on any government officials who didn’t have the foresight to bail out in time. The U.S., France, and the U.K. joined the military conflict in Libya to protect civilians in Benghazi from getting slaughtered. Will they do the same to prevent widespread bloodshed by rebel forces in Tripoli? That would be a huge challenge for NATO, particularly if there is no mandate to use ground troops.
The answer to Dehghanpisheh’s questions remains to be seen but one thing is sure, Gadhafi will fight to keep from losing complete control. In his audio address to the country on Sunday, the leader’s fantasy seemed completely removed from the rebels’ gained ground. The dictator defiantly declared:
“People are kissing my picture. I am their leader, I am their father.”
For a great look at the events in Libya over the weekend, check out Foreign Policy‘s “Triumph in Tripoli” slideshow.