“When and how did this all begin?” I asked myself as we were leaving.
The war started when an Islamist group of Internet activists affiliated with the city of Misrata launched a social networking campaign against the brigades of Zintan city: the Qaqaa, the Thunderbolts and the al-Madini, which have been operating from camps in southwest Tripoli since the fall of al-Gaddafi’s regime. The activists accused the Zintan battalions of having ties to al-Ghaddafi loyalists, calling them “notorious criminals” known for looting, murdering and robbing civilians on the city’s airport roads.
The activists called on the people of Tripoli to rebel against Zintan, but the plan backfired much in the same way as it did last year, when Misrata’s efforts to take Tripoli resulted in 50 civilian casualties. Much like before, the city remained loyal to Zintan and launched a new campaign against the Misrata battalions, compellig the Misrata to consolidate its forces and forge strategic plans to force Zintan out of its Tripoli camps.
The military councils of Zintan and Misrata had agreed to hand over all vital installations to joint forces from the Lybian cities. Was this agreement breached?
Yes. On July 13, during ‘Operation Kassoura’ on, the Misrata brigades unified under the banner of ‘Lybia Dawn,’ which launched a surprise attack on Zintan strongholds. The six-pronged attack targeted Tripoli airport, as well as Qaqaa and Thunderbolt camps, but ultimately failed to push Zintan battalions out of their strongholds. Surprised at the resistance they encountered during the attacks, the Misrata followed up with indiscriminate shelling that hit shops and houses.
What set off these attacks?
Islamist parties suffered a crushing defeat in the June legislative elections, and responded by staging a series of armed operations against Zintan loyalists in Tripoli, whom they accused of a “coup.”
What role did media play in the aggression?
Several state-funded media outlets, such as the official Libya state TV channel and the city of Misrata channel attempted to rally public support for the Kassoura Operation. These channels continuously broadcast anti-Zintan videos and statements. The few media outlets that took a more neutral stance were subjected to intimidation or were taken over by Libya Dawn revolutionaries.
On the opposing side, some privately owned channels such as the al-Dawliya (The International), Libya Awalan (Libya First), and the al-Asima (The Capital City) satellite stations stood against the Kassoura Operation and called it the “Invasion of Tripoli.” They aired old videos of Misrata atrocities in Tawergha and Gharghour to turn public support against the group.
The reporters working for these satellite stations received death threats urging them to leave their jobs and accusing the channels of ties to al-Gaddafi’s regime. Libya Dawn also prepared lists with the names of journalists, bloggers and activists who opposed the Kassoura Operation in order to hold them accountable after the victory.
Why do the civilians always pay the price?
Indiscriminate shelling, which has reached populated areas without any prior warning given to people, has forced them to leave their homes and resulted in the killing and wounding of civilians including children and women. The total number of people killed in this conflict remains undocumented.
The belligerents violated international rules of warfare and bombed civilian areas with impunity. Aside from the high civilian death toll, the attacks have damaged key infrastructure, waterways and communication networks.
For more than one month, citizens in the capital have lacked access to such basics as gasoline, electricity, water, bread, and cooking gas. The freefalling national currency has caused prices to skyrocket.
More than 7,000 families have left the city. Some 3,000 families found refuge in al-Zawiya. Another 800 families have fled to al-Ojailat. Misrata is hosting about 600 families.
Will everyone leave Libya?
War is making life in the capital increasingly intolerable. Most countries have started to evacuate their citizens and diplomatic missions. Even the United Nations mission, there to lead the country towards a peaceful transition, has left the capital city by land and headed to Tunisia. Tripoli hospitals face a staffing shortage because Filipino and Indian nurses have left the city.
What is the solution?
The key objective is to unify the national army and rein in paramilitary groups. Without initiating a dialogue and inviting international intervention to broker a ceasefire and rebuild a national security force not based on regional or ideological allegiances, the chaos in Libya will continue unabated.