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The Toll of War on Libya: The Need for a Reassessment

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By Amjad Yamein
Al-Akhbar English
December 14, 2011

The toppling of Gaddafi seems to have shut the door on a much needed revisiting of the true extent of damage the war wreaked on the country.

More than 30,000 people were killed and 50,000 wounded during the six-month civil war in Libya to topple Gaddafi’s regime, estimated the Libyan health minister, Naji Barakat. A collection of various news sources seem to indicate that between 4,996 to 6,657 of those casualties were civilians.

Barakat stated that these numbers are partially based on hospital, local official, and former rebel commanders’ reports. He expected that the final number for the dead, misplaced, and wounded would be higher than the current estimate.

There are also reports of huge damage to the country’s infrastructure. Sirte, for example, lies in complete ruin, as the BBC reported.

Inventing a war

Claims that Gaddafi’s regime had ordered mass rape, used foreign mercenaries, and helicopters to attack civilian protesters had been widely used by NATO, opposition groups, and the media, since February 15, to justify NATO’s war in Libya.

Seemingly false reports were also used to justify military intervention by NATO. Amnesty International stated that on several occasions the rebels in Benghazi appeared to have knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence.

Additionally, when US defense secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were testifying before Congress, they stated that they had no confirmation of reports of aircraft controlled by Gaddafi firing on citizens.

The Independent of the UK reported, “There is no evidence that aircraft or heavy anti-aircraft machine guns were used against crowds. Spent cartridges picked up after protesters were shot at came from Kalashnikovs or similar calibre weapons.”

“We have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped,” said Donatella Rovera, a senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty.

NATO’s intervention in Libya officially began on March 31, after a multi-state coalition started military operations on 19 March 2011, reportedly to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which was made in response to events during the 2011 Libyan civil war.

Resolution 1973 called for “an immediate ceasefire,” the establishment a no-fly zone over Libya authorizing all necessary means to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas, except for a “foreign occupation force;” and strengthening the arms embargo imposed by paragraph 9 in Resolution 1970, amongst other things.

The phrase “all necessary measures” to protect civilians was used as the legal basis for NATO’s bombing campaign, dismissing all other available peaceful options as ineffective.

No choice but war

“The claim that the ‘international community’ had no choice but to intervene militarily and that the alternative was to do nothing is false. An active, practical, non-violent alternative was proposed, and deliberately rejected. The argument for a no-fly zone and then for a military intervention employing ‘all necessary measures’ was that only this could stop the regime’s repression and protect civilians,” wrote Hugh Roberts.

On March 10, The International Crisis Group (ICG), published a statement proposing a two point initiative: 1) the formation of a contact group to broker an immediate ceasefire; and, 2) begin negotiations between the protagonists to be initiated by the contact group and aimed at replacing the current regime with a more accountable representative and law-abiding government.

This initiative was echoed by the African Union, and was consistent with the views of various prominent non-African states including Russia, China, Brazil and India, in addition to Germany and Turkey.

It was restated by ICG in an open letter to the UN Security Council in detail, before it voted to approve the military intervention.

“In authorising this [no-fly zone] and ‘all necessary measures,’ the Security Council was choosing war when no other policy had even been tried.[…]Many critics of NATO’s intervention have complained that it departed from the terms of Resolution 1973 and was for that reason illegal,” he added.

Critics of NATO’s actions in Libya claim they were disproportionate, defeating its raison d’être and jeopardizing civilian lives instead of protecting them.

Protecting civilians

“We went to Libya on the 28th of July and we came back on the 7th August and we found a totally different situation because NATO was bombarding civilians,” said Yvonne Di Vito, an activist from Libyanfriends.com.

“The bombings were not only carried out on military targets, but they also hit houses, hospitals, schools, television centers, and this was totally against the humanitarian reasons they said they were there for,” she continued.

Mustafa al-Mrabet was sitting in front of what remains of his house after NATO’s bombardment of Majer, Zlitan reportedly killing 85 civilians according to various sources, including his wife and two small children.

“I want justice for my 5- and 3-year-old sons Mohammad and Moataz, and my wife, a teacher, who were killed by NATO. Of course there is such a thing as democracy, they should give us the name of the pilot and the person who planned this attack. This is my house and it is open for the whole world to see it including all news agencies,” he said.

Some argue that NATO’s bombardment of Libyan cities shows their all but unstated tactic of bombing the rebels into the cities.

“I believe they were doing this to bring panic in the city. That’s why they were bombing the things that people use daily, like places with food and essential utilities like hospitals,” Di Vito added.

“We went to Tripoli and to Zitan and we saw huge protests with thousands of pro-Gaddafi supporters turning out against NATO and all these demonstrations were not shown in Italy,” continued Di Vito.

Describing what she saw on the ground, Di Vito explains, “We also visited Tanjur and Sansur, and found a lot of women that were screaming at us, asking ‘Why you Italians are bombing us? What did we do to you? Why are you killing our children?’ That was their main question. When we went to Zitan, the same day they bombed a house and in this house two children were killed. We tried to show the pictures of these children that were dead. But apart from us, no one else did the same.”

The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court told the United Nations Security Council that NATO forces and Libyan rebels associated with the NTC are being investigated for alleged war crimes committed during the Western-backed overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

“The Office [of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court] will be prepared to present a comprehensive report on the crimes allegedly committed by the different parties in Libya since 15 February 2011 and the existence of genuine national proceedings, during its third briefing to the UN Security Council in May 2012,” he wrote.

“After all the things that we saw we have one question: is this a humanitarian war? Are they really helping the civilians, because I believe that all this is because of economic reasons, or at least there are other reasons that this war happened, petroleum or other things,” Di Vito concluded.

Amjad Yamein is an Amman-based journalist and writer.

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Written by Maidhc Ó Cathail

December 15, 2011 at 7:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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