Leading article: The endgame is at hand, but holds dangers of its own

Share
Related Topics

As of last night, it was unclear whether the regime of Muammar Gaddafi was in its last days if not hours. But it did seem that, for the first time in the six-month conflict, the endgame was finally at hand. Opposition forces were advancing on the capital from three sides and, while reports of clashes in Tripoli itself appeared to be premature, the central question was no longer whether the Gaddafi clan would be overthrown, but when and how – and then what would happen next.

The "when" depends on the real balance of forces and on the regime's readiness to fight. Yesterday, the Information minister, Moussa Ibrahim, spoke, as he has so often, with forked tongue. Like Gaddafi himself in an earlier broadcast, he disparaged the opposition forces and evinced a fierce determination not to cede power without a fight. At the same time, he spoke about being amenable to talks. So long as the opposition senses that it has the upper hand, however, the prospects of talks at this stage look remote.

The "how" is equally hard to gauge. There were reports over the weekend of more high-level defections from the Gaddafi camp, but also of support still holding up in Tripoli. This is not a regime that has so far shown any signs of being ready to give up power. There was a street-by-street battle for Zawiya on the western approaches to Tripoli. In the east, the oil city of Brega has changed hands several times since the start of hostilities. If the opposition has to fight for the capital, a protracted bloodbath could be the result.

This in turn could precipitate more overt Nato intervention, on the same pretext that justified the original air strikes near Benghazi: the need to protect the civilian population. Thus far, the opposition can just about claim that it has achieved its victories by itself. Nato may have advisers on the ground, and individual member countries may have special forces deployed in ways, and places, that can be technically distinguished from UN-authorised Nato operations. But it is in everyone's interest – that of the Libyan opposition and the western alliance – that the home forces should be able to win power and keep it by themselves. Anything less, and the authority of the opposition if and when it enters Tripoli will be compromised to the degree that it is seen as a client of foreign powers, rather than a legitimate ruler in its own right.

The population's perception of the opposition's strength will be a key to what happens next. And this will depend to a large extent on how far the leaders of its National Transitional Council can present a united front and a coherent vision for Libya's future. Regrettably, their performance so far has not given grounds for confidence.

Not only have there been open political differences almost from the start, but the murder last month of the military commander, Major-General Abdel Fatah Younes – allegedly for talking to representatives of Gaddafi – suggested serious, and continuing, differences in approach. With the forces converging on the capital under separate commands and with distinct regional identities, there is a real risk of further fighting over the spoils. As the endgame proceeds, those who wish Libya well should hope for the best, while preparing, in hard-headed fashion, for the worst.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Deputy Editor's Letter:

Independent Voices, Indy Voices Rhodri Jones
A couple stand in front of a beautiful cloudy scene  

In sickness and in health: It’s been stormy but there are blessings in the clouds

Rebecca Armstrong
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor