Patrick Cockburn: Libya's parallels with Iraq under Saddam are truly ominous





[Patrick Cockburn is a foreign correspondent at The Independent.]

The conflict between pro and anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya could, according to Moussa Koussa, the former Libyan foreign minister, who has fled to Britain, turn the country into another Somalia. The ingredients are certainly there for a prolonged conflict. Claims that Muammar Gaddafi is about to fall sound unnervingly similar to predictions in 1991 that Saddam Hussein was going to lose power in Iraq after his calamitous defeat in Kuwait and uprisings by Shia and Kurds that he brutally crushed.

In fact, Saddam survived for another 12 years and was finally only overthrown by an American and British invasion that plunged the country deeper than ever into violence from which it has still not recovered. Could the same thing happen with Gaddafi? It no longer seems likely, as it did during the first few weeks of the Libyan uprising, that he will soon be fleeing for his life from Tripoli or will be the victim of a coup by his own lieutenants.

Instead Gaddafi appears to be stabilising his authority and may be there for months or even years. On the ground there is a military stalemate. Small forces from both sides have captured and recaptured the town of Ajdabiya over several weeks, but neither has been able to land a knock-out blow. At times there are more journalists than fighters on the frontline: forays to-and-fro by a few pick-ups with machine guns in the back are reported as if they were German and British divisions fighting in the same area 70 years ago...


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