>– Rebellious Military Units, Anti-Regime Activists Hold Libya’s 2nd Largest City Benghazi, Eastern Part of Country
– Qaddafi’s Son Saif Coordinating Flights for “White Mercenary” Units from Russia and Eastern Europe, Many Ex-Soviet Special Forces
– Hired Gunmen from Sub-Saharan Africa Roam Streets of Tripoli as Anti-Regime Protesters Raise Pre-1969 National Flag
– Exiled Spiritual Leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Returns to Cairo, Issues Fatwa against Qaddafi, Urges Libyan Soldiers to Kill Dictator
– Algeria’s Ruling National Liberation Front Lifts 19-Year-Old State of Emergency in Bid to Halt North Africa’s Revolutionary Wave
– Former Contra Commander Assassinated in Nicaragua’s Northern Mountains, “Comandante Jahob” Declared New Insurgency against Sandinistas in July 2010
Pictured above: Libyans stand on an army tank at the state security compound in Benghazi, which is now controlled by anti-government troops. Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi never trusted the military and therefore turned to East Germany’s Stasi to build up his power base in the secret police.
The dominos of socialist dictatorship are falling across North Africa, but what will take their place? Tunisians ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January, while Egyptians ousted President Hosni Mubarak earlier this month. Anti-regime protesters profess to champion the establishment of democracy in these countries. However, in both cases long-exiled Muslim clerics swiftly returned to rally the region’s religious fundamentalists, prompting many observers to speculate that Iran may try to export its Islamic revolution to Tunisia and Egypt before democracy takes root there.
Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi appears to be the next target of this revolutionary wave. He not only faces a popular uprising inspired by the democratic revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, but also a widespread mutiny within the military and police, defections among senior officials and diplomats, and an Islamic insurgency that includes groups like the Islamic Emirate of Barqa.
With the help of his Presidential Guard and ruthless mercenaries consisting of ex-Soviet special forces, as well as hired killers from Chad and Sudan, Qaddafi is barely holding onto the capitol Tripoli. Britain’s Daily Mail reports:
Most of the ‘white mercenaries’ are believed to be from former Soviet Union countries, including the Ukraine, and have been identified by their language and by those captured and interrogated before being killed. Many carry passports and identification papers from the armies for which they were once regular soldiers. Gaddafi’s son and heir Saif is understood to be co-ordinating the mercenaries’ operations.
Air force officer Major Rajib Faytouni said he personally witnessed up to 4,000 mercenaries arrive on Libyan transport planes over a period of three days starting from February 14. Faytouni stated: “That’s why we turned against the government. That and the fact there was an order to use planes to attack the people.”
On Tuesday, in a 75-minute shrieking rant aired on state television, Qaddafi brandished his “Green Book,” vowed to die as a “martyr” for “Islamic socialism,” and urged followers to do the same: “I am not a president to step down … This is my country. Muammar is not a president to leave his post. I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired … when I do, everything will burn. Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs … Starting tomorrow the cordons will be lifted, go out and fight them.”
Islamic fundamentalists in other countries have made no attempt to disguise their contempt for long-time Moscow ally Qaddafi. The spiritual leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, who lately returned to his homeland from exile in Qatar, issued a fatwa (death sentence) against the Libyan leader. “Whoever in the Libyan army is able to shoot a bullet at Mr. Gaddafi should do so,” Yusuf al-Qaradawi told Al-Jazeera television.
By contrast, some of Qaddafi’s venerable Latin American allies have rallied to his defense. On Tuesday, Nicaragua’s past/present Marxist dictator Daniel Ortega admitted that he has telephoned Qaddafi several times over the past few days to express Nicaragua’s solidarity with Libya. On Monday, during an event commemorating revolutionary hero Augusto Sandino, Ortega downplayed Qaddafi’s brutal crackdown by declaring: “Gadhafi is again waging a great battle to defend the unity of his nation. It’s at difficult times that loyalty and resolve are put to the test.”
Comandante Ortega’s comments do not bode well for Nicaraguans who last December opposed the passage of Sandinista-sponsored “national defense” bills that could easily resurrect Ortega’s Cold War-era dictatorship.
In his weekly Reflections column, cadaverous ex-dictator Fidel Castro went further than his disciple Ortega by weaving a conspiracy theory that pits unfortunate Libya against the world’s sole superpower “For me, what is absolutely clear,” frets Comrade Fidel, “is that the government of the United States is not in the least worried about peace in Libya and it will not hesitate in giving NATO the order to invade that rich country, perhaps in a matter of hours or a few short days.”
Qaddafi is also chummy with Venzuela’s communist dictator Hugo Chavez, who has issued no public comments on the crackdown in Libya. However, this Monday Chavez’s foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, denied reports that the Libyan strongmen fled his homeland in search of asylum in Venezuela. Maduro acknowledged that he spoke with Libyan counterpart Moussa Koussa, who apparently insisted that “Gaddafi is in Tripoli, exercising the powers given to him by the state and addressing the situation in the country, thereby refuting the comments made to the press in an irresponsible manner by British Foreign Secretary William Hague.” Both Chavez and Qaddafi have made official visits to the other’s country.
The pro-Washington government of Peruvian President Alan Garcia has suspended diplomatic ties with Libya, becoming the first country anywhere to take such a measure.
According to Italian Foreign Minister Frattini, Qaddafi loyalists and reputed mercenaries in the employ of the tottering regime have bombed and gunned down 1,000 civilians since the first anti-government protests erupted in Benghazi on February 15. Italy imports 25 percent of its oil from the North African country. Frattini has enjoined Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who faces embarrassing charges of consorting with prostitutes, to use his close personal ties with Qaddafi to pressure the strongman to halt the crackdown.
After the First World War, Italy took over Libya from the Ottoman Empire. During the 1920s and 1930s, Italy’s ruling National Fascist Party adopted a hard line against Arab nationalists in Libya. General Rodolfo Graziani, who led the “pacification” of the Libyan rebels, was known as the “butcher of Fezzan.”
Today, NATO country Italy has a separate treaty of friendship with Libya, one provision of which states: “Italy will not use or will not permit the use of its own territories in any hostile act against Libya and Libya will not use, nor permit the use of its own territories in any hostile act against Italy.” This would seem to prevent the unlikely scenario painted by Comrade Fidel.
Libya’s opposition groups are organized under the banner of the National Conference for the Libyan Opposition, which includes the main organization known as the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), as well as the Libyan League for Human Rights, Libyan Tmazight Congress, Committee for Libyan National Action in Europe, and the Warfalla and Tuareg tribes.
Founded in 1981, leftists allege that the NFSL is financed and trained by the US Central Intelligence Agency. On May 8, 1984, NFSL commandos took part in a daring attack on the Bab al-Aziziyah barracks near Tripoli, in an attempt to assassinate the Libyan leader. The NFSL Executive Committee is currently led by Secretary General Ibrahim Abdulaziz Sahad, who was re-elected for a second term during the 5th National Congress, held in the USA in July 2007.
With the help of military units who defected from the Qaddafi regime, the opposition has assumed control over Libya’s second largest city, Beghazi, which had been the focal point of anti-Qaddafi unrest. The mainstream media, in fact, reports that much of eastern Libya is firmly under rebel control. The Canadian media reports that the Libyans have raised pre-Qaddafi national flags in cities and town throughout the country, including in the suburbs of Tripoli:
Outside the Libyan capital, anti-government protesters have asserted their control in a number of areas in the eastern part of the country. But on Wednesday, witnesses said that some protesters were making their presence known in areas much closer to Tripoli.
In the city of Misurata, about three hours east of the capital, people were seen honking their horns and raising pre-Gadhafi flags. Local doctor Faraj al-Misrati said the people in Misurata had formed committees to protect the city, keep the streets clean and treat the injured. “The solidarity among the people here is amazing, even the disabled are helping out,” al-Misrati told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
A Facebook page showed video of anti-government protesters raising a pre-Gadhafi flag on the outskirts of Tripoli in Zawiya. Another video showed protesters using cement blocks and flaming tires to fortify their positions on a public square in Tripoli. None of the content in the videos could be independently confirmed.
The Associated Press reports that anti-government protesters have taken control of nearly the entire eastern half of Libyan’s 1,600-kilometre Mediterranean coast. They are backed by army units who have defected from Gadhafi’s control.
On Wednesday, Qaddafi loyalists and their imported killers renewed attacks against civilians in the capital, pushing up the price of crude in New York for the fifth consecutive day to US$100. Many countries with citizens working in Libya, including Russia, have scrambled to organize evacuation flights and sailings.
Elsewhere in the Arab world, anti-regime protests continue in Bahrain, Yemen, and Algeria, where the ruling National Liberation Front formally lifted a 19-year-old state of emergency in a bid to pre-empt a Tunisia/Egypt-style putsch.
Meanwhile, sinister developments in Nicaragua provide some context for Ortega’s rush to defend old comrade Qaddafi. On February 13, in the mountains of northern Nicaragua unidentified assailants posing as farmers assassinated former Contra leader José Gabriel Garmendia, whose nom de guerre was “Comandante Jahob.” Unconfirmed media reports claim he was shot dead by Nicaraguan soldiers or intelligence officers who had infiltrated his camp. Tellingly, neither the Nicaraguan Army nor the National Police has commented on the incident.
Last July, Garmendia launched a “one-man” insurgency against the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). In response, Ortega and top military brass downplayed Jahob’s mini-rebellion, accusing him of being a “common delinquent with ties to drug traffickers and coup-conspiring Honduran military officials.”
Former Contra Felix Pedro Cruz, who still goes by the code name “Comandante Jehu,” claims Garmendia had mustered 3,000 armed men—a statistic disputed by the army—to prosecute his new war against the Sandinistas. “They have only made him into a martyr. His death will serve to unite all the divided contra movements into one,” said Cruz, who believes his comrade in arms is still alive. “It’s not the first time rumors of his death have been reported by the media.” However, a wake held for Garmendia in Estelí on February 15 suggests that Comandante Jahob is well and truly dead.
Since his re-election in 2006, after a 16-year hiatus, Ortega has snuggled up to old allies in Russia, Cuba, Libya, and North Korea, forged new allies in Iran and Venezuela, made a trip to Moscow, welcomed top Russian officials to Managua, cracked down on press freedoms, harassed opposition parties, modernized the never-used Soviet-built air base at Punta Huete, begun construction of an inter-oceanic canal, and sent troops to occupy a Costa Rican island.