Why Libya's Qaddafi could survive like Saddam in 1991
Rather than the euphoric victories in Tunisia and Egypt, Libya's conflict now evokes another uprising: Iraqis' 1991 failed bid to overthrow Saddam Hussein, who ruled for another 12 years.
Ras Ajdir, Tunisia-Libya border
With cool confidence, a Libyan expatriate arrives at this remote border with a small fortune in donations and imminent regime change on his mind.Skip to next paragraph
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From the outside, it looks easy: He predicts that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has perhaps 10 days before the people-power Arab revolt sweeps him away as it already has the authoritarian leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.
“Every time someone dies, [the opposition] gets stronger,” says the Libyan with a North American accent, who could not be named. “Qaddafi is going to have to kill everybody. If that’s the price of freedom, I guess we are willing to pay it.”
But rather than the euphoric victories in Tunisia and Egypt, Libya's conflict now evokes another uprising: Iraqis' 1991 bid to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It, too, began with hope but ended in despair as the dictator brutally suppressed antigovernment rebels and ruled for another 12 years.
IN PICTURES: Qaddafi: A look back
“In 1991, from President Bush downwards, the world assumed that Saddam Hussein would be swept from power, and they didn’t have to really do much but hold the country in isolation and the Iraqis would do the rest,” says Toby Dodge, an Iraq specialist at Queen Mary, University of London. “We have a similar situation here to 1991, with the international community assuming [Qaddafi] will go very soon.”
But Dr. Dodge adds that despite the efforts of opposition fighters, who have taken control of much of the east from their base in Benghazi, the current counterattack by forces loyal to Mr. Qaddafi means that he might still consolidate his position and remain in power.
“You may well have a new status quo in Libya, with a divided country and a regime strong enough to survive,” says Dodge, who is also an expert on comparative Middle East politics at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. “Talking to people in Tripoli … it seems to me that the core of Qaddafi’s support base and his Army are secure enough to hold Tripoli, and then you’ve got the traditional Benghazi-Tripoli split.”
Qaddafi offer to rebels
In Libya, nothing can be ruled out. The rebels' momentum appears to have slowed in recent days, but talk is growing in Washington and other Western capitals of imposing a no-fly zone or other measures to boost their efforts.
On Tuesday, reports emerged that Qaddafi had sent envoys to offer a deal, in which he would step aside in return for safe passage, for his family keeping their wealth, and for immunity from prosecution.
Tripoli denounced the reports as “lies.” The opposition reported that they replied with counterdemands.
Rebel forces have already seized control of the eastern third of the country, declared an interim government in the second-largest city, Benghazi, and pushed their offensive westward in haphazard manner, using weaponry looted from military stores despite little training or discipline.
Push toward Tripoli stalls
But dreams of riding all the way to Tripoli – where Qaddafi has ridiculed the opposition as “terrorists” and drug addicts – are stalling along the front line.