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The coup against Gaddafi

Western planners back leadership - but not regime - change in Libya, argues Milan Rai.

In the aftermath of the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, anxious questions are being asked about the capacity of the NATO military alliance to learn the “lessons of Iraq”. The debate is testimony to the power of the western propaganda system to obscure plain facts, both about Libya and about Iraq.

It has been clear for a very long time that western leaders are seeking in Libya not a democratic revolution, but something resembling a coup. In this, they have been partially successful – just as in Iraq.

Assassination

On 29 June, Conservative MP John Baron asked British foreign secretary William Hague: ““In what appears to be the most protracted assassination attempt in history, does the foreign secretary believe that the targeting of Gaddafi’s Winnebago [mobile home] and family homes continue to fall within the remit of UN resolution 1973 and, if so, why?”

Just as in Iraq, this latest war began with an assassination attempt. The first official military action of the 2003 Iraq war was a US stealth aircraft attack on a building believed to contain Saddam Hussein.

Exactly eight years later, on 20 March 2011, on the second day of foreign air intervention, Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched against Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli. On 24, 25 and 28 May, there were dozens of night-time NATO bombing raids on Tripoli, many of them on or near to the Bab al-Aziziya compound.

The Russian government condemned these raids as a “gross violation” of UN security council resolution 1973, which authorised “all necessary measures” to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack” in Libya.

The coup

In Iraq, it was clear to anyone prepared to look behind official rhetoric that the US and Britain had no real interest in “regime change”; what they were looking for was “leadership change and regime stability”.

Let us take only two pieces of evidence. On 1 October 2002, white house spokesperson Ari Fleischer, asked about the likely multi-billion-dollar cost of the coming Iraq war, replied: “the cost of a one-way ticket is substantially less than that; the cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it on themselves, is substantially less than that.... Regime change is welcome in whatever form it takes.” “Regime change” only needed one bullet fired into one head.

In November 2002, Tony Blair’s first question to Britain’s top academic Iraq experts at a special pre-war briefing for the prime minister was: “What do we do after the coup?”

Libya

The ready acceptance of former Gaddafi ministers as “rebels” demonstrated that the west had no objection to the Gaddafi regime as such, or to its repressive authoritarianism. The chair of the rebel national transitional council (NTC) is Abdul Jalil, Gaddafi’s justice minister from 2007 until 21 February. Chair of the executive board of the NTC is Mahmoud Jibril, who was head of Gaddafi’s national economic development board (where he promoted privatisation and “liberalisation”) from 2007 until the uprising. Ali Issawi, the foreign affairs representative of the NTC, was a Gaddafi minister from 2007-2009 (a leaked US cable suggests that he lost his position due to accusations of corruption), and then became Libyan ambassador to India, as position he resigned in February. General Abdel Fattah Younes was welcomed by the rebels and their western supporters after defecting from his position as interior minister in February (after a lifetime of service to Gaddafi). (However, though military commander of the rebel forces, Younes was killed by some fellow rebels at the end of July.)

In principle, there was no objection to the regime. There was an objection to Gaddafi and his immediate family (as with Iraq in 2003). The opening salvo against Gaddafi’s home in Tripoli (and the continuing efforts to target him, which killed his youngest son and three grandchildren) indicated that the war was, as John Baron suggested, to a large extent an assassination mission.

On 2 April, a few weeks after the NATO bombing started, The Times reported: “The operation to find a diplomatic end to the Gaddafi regime and, if possible, engineer a coup in Tripoli is being run from a crisis room in the basement of the Foreign Office” (emphasis added). The goal was to preserve “stability”, to preserve the core of the authoritarian state, and to “engineer a coup”.

On 8 August, The Times published details of a 70-page blueprint for post-Gaddafi Libya, drawn up by the rebel National Transitional Council, with British “help”: “Despite their public rhetoric, the top secret document reveals that rebel planners conclude that a successful advance on Tripoli is unlikely, as is the death of Colonel Gaddafi in a NATO bombing raid. Instead they think that he is most likely to be ousted by a popular uprising or coup.”

This turned out to be roughly the format of the endgame, with hundreds of young men from the Tripoli area reportedly trained and armed by western special forces, then returning home for a “popular uprising” (coordinated with airstrikes guided by western special forces), and a “coup” by Gaddafi’s trusted commander Mohammed Eshkal, head of the Mohammed Megrayef brigade, charged with defending Tripoli’s gates.

According to the 8 August rebel blueprint, plans were “highly reliant on the defection of parts of the existing Gaddafi security apparatus to the rebels after his overthrow.” 800 of Gaddafi’s government security officials and 5,000 of his police officers were said to have been recruited as the “backbone” of a new security apparatus.

Whatever the truth of these assertions, what is clear is that the rebel leadership and their western backers have no problem in principle to those who have served or even led the regime. According to the blueprint: “A mass defection by high-ranking officials is considered highly likely, with 70 per cent adjudged to support the regime out of fear alone.” The vast majority of Gaddafi’s elite will be acceptable in the new “democratic” framework, just as senior Ba’athists were retained by the US occupation forces.

The real lesson of Iraq, obscured by the mainstream media and academia, was that the west opposes democracy even when it talks revolution.

Milan Rai, Peace News co-editor, wrote about US/UK coup plans in Iraq in War Plan Iraq (Verso, 2002) and Regime Unchanged (Pluto, 2003).

Topics: Libya