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Sun 20 Mar 2011 05:42 PM

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Libya’s end game

Finally outgunned as western air forces move in, survivor Gaddafi plays for time

Libya’s end game
Gaddafi, Libyan Leader

Finally confronted by a far stronger adversary, Muammar Gaddafi's pragmatic instincts will be to stall, secure a truce and negotiate continued control of a rump regime based in Libya's west.

His life as well as his rule at stake, the veteran autocrat will also tighten security control over his entourage to avert any repetition of the numerous coup attempts that have marked his 41 years in power, analysts say.

But his options have shrunk dramatically since the UN Security Council on Thursday evening endorsed a no-fly zone and "all necessary measures" to shield civilians from his forces.

Analysts who know Gaddafi, an old hand at surviving prolonged international isolation, say the goal of UN-backed action must be regime change.

Any endgame short of that will offer openings he can exploit. For example, some expect Gaddafi, adept at brinkmanship, to call for talks mediated by African statesmen to gain time and carve rifts in the coalition ranged against him.

"He's a manipulator and a survivor," said Saad Djebbar, a UK-based Libya expert.

"He shouldn't be allowed to negotiate to stay on in Tripoli. He wants to engineer the division of Libya, like Korea was split into a North and a South in the 1950s.

"His only option should be to leave."

That endgame received explicit backing on Friday when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the international effort against Gaddafi was aimed at ousting him, although it would move "one step at a time" and first halt violence against civilians.

"The overwhelming vote by the Security Council I think reflects a broad understanding that, Number One: stop the violence, and Number Two: we do believe that a final result of any negotiations would have to be the decision by Colonel Gaddafi to leave," she said.

Djebbar said what he called Gaddafi's untrustworthiness was on display as late as Friday afternoon, when he said Libya's third city of Misrata in the west continued to be pummelled by government fire after Gaddafi's government declared a ceasefire.

Analysts say that beyond ending the killing of civilians and Gaddafi's departure from power in some way, much remains unclear about the aims of the rapidly assembled coalition on Libya.

First, it is not clear that Gaddafi's departure is the principal objective of all major powers.

For their part, many Western strategists would like to see a rapid transfer of Gaddafi and his associates to the world court at The Hague, an outcome implicit in the UN resolution. How big the constituency would be for that outcome is unknown.

Then there are uncertainties about how a post-Gaddafi government would be assembled in a society taught for four decades that democracy is wrong and pluralism is a fraud.

And there are the practical challenges of confronting a pragmatic leader adept at international machinations.

After all, Gaddafi skillfully negotiated Libya's rapprochement with the international community in 2003-05 by agreeing to give up weapons of mass destruction programmes.

He later publicly admitted that he was motivated by his prudent desire to avert to fate of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, toppled by the US-led invasion of 2003 and later hanged.

Gaddafi and his sons are expected to cling on, based in the capital Tripoli in Libya's west, and perhaps pull their forces back from the eastern city of Benghazi to undermine accusations that they are preparing to level the opposition bastion there.

But such gambits may be of little use. There is little doubt that the overwhelming momentum now is for military force to be brought to bear until Gaddafi's government is brought to an end.

Any endgame allowing their political survival would lead to Libya's de facto partition between the west and a rebel-run east, and years of strife between the two regions, analysts say.

Jytte Klausen, Professor of International Cooperation at Brandeis University, said that if Gaddafi clung on, a divided Libya was a real possibility "consisting of two dysfunctional city states separated by peace-keepers".

Meaningful negotiations will only be about the manner of his departure, many experts say.

Faysal Itani, deputy head of Middle East and North Africa forecasting at Exclusive Analysis, said Gaddafi's use of heavy weaponry against civilian fighters erased any possibility the opposition would contemplate a continued role for his family.

"The doors are really shut for negotiation," he said, adding a minimum level of trust required for serious negotiations did not exist. "We think Gaddafi will be killed, or commit suicide, or simply run away. It's over."

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JJ 9 years ago

It is really a pity a person with such a face managed to rule for such a long time. His face in this picture is by itself is enough reason for people to rebel.

Saif Mohammed 9 years ago

Dear JJ, according to history most of the cruel criminals of the world are good looking and pleasingly charming like fashion models. Thereby Gaddafi might be a good guy in reality. (if you keep away U.S. propaganda).

JJ 9 years ago

Ok, I admit let's put his look and US propaganda aside. What he did is the real measure of how good or bad he is. According to history most of the cruel crimes around the world were related/finanaced/supported or even done by this good looking and pleasingly fashion model Gaddafi.