No-fly zone in Libya

How to stop a Libyan massacre: the power is in our hands | openDemocracy | Ranj Alaaldin

http://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/ranj-alaaldin/how-to-stop-libyan-massacre-power-is-in-our-hands

Ranj Alaaldin issues a timely call for a considered form of
intervention in Libya’s uprising. With the Libyan air force already
firing on its own people, and escalation likely, a no-fly zone must be
implemented over Libyan airspace to prevent mass casualties.

Colonel Gaddafi’s regime is on the brink and nearing collapse. At the
same time, however, the people of Libya are also edging closer towards
slaughter at the hands of a regime that has proven and explicitly
stated that it will be brutal and unwavering in its efforts to
suppress the uprising in the country.

The time has come for the international community to stop looking at
events in Libya through the prisms of Tunisia and Egypt and come to
terms with the reality that the Gaddafi regime is a different animal
altogether.

The people of Libya can only do so much. They have the power of the
masses and may become too difficult a challenge to contain by the
Libyan security forces and their hired foreign henchmen. Members of
the security forces, along with senior diplomats and major tribes,
have already defected. In other words, through the power of numbers,
the Libyan population may be able to overcome Gaddafi and his inner
circle who have a superiority in arms.

But what the regime still has and what the people of Libya are unable
to match is the all-significant and decisive impact weapon that is
airpower. The ability that is to effortlessly and unrelentlessly put
down a population and the passion and resolve it has so admirably
exercised.

This is where the international community, and particularly the west,
can come in to feasibly support the Libyan people. With or without a
Security Council resolution, the west must not simply condemn the
repression of the Libyan civilian population and push for allowing
access for international humanitarian organisations, but also impose a
no-fly zone in the country.

No-fly zones are an important tool of conflict management that provide
an effective way to support the besieged Libyan population in what is
a dangerous conflict area, and with relatively little risk. The policy
works. Go ask the Kurds in Iraq. Following the end of the first Gulf
War, a no-fly zone in the north of Iraq was declared in March 1991 to
protect Iraqi Kurds after Saddam Hussein’s regime had put down their
uprising. That policy ensured Saddam was never again able to inflict
upon the Kurds the massacres he had continuously subjected them to in
previous years, the most macabre being the 1988 chemical bombardment
of Halabja that killed 5,000 Kurds almost instantly.

This constitutes a middle-ground intervention on the part of the
international community that avoids direct-armed conflict with Libya
and instead falls between full-scale military intervention and a
temporary bombing campaign. Direct military action may have unintended
consequences and compound the situation by forcing the regime to adopt
a scorched-earth policy, whilst simultaneously supporting the regime’s
claims to its people that “foreign agents” are at play in the unrest.
A move of this type will only help the regime’s propaganda and may
lead to the failure of the revolution.

Few people will support the claim that Gaddafi is a lesser evil than
Saddam. A no-fly zone will ensure Libyan helicopter gunships are not
used to dreadful effect against indiscriminate targets like they were
during the 1991 uprising in Iraq. It will deprive the regime of the
ability to enforce extraordinarily brutal countermeasures from the
air, like the bombardment of heavily populated residential areas and
the destroying of homes.

As the regime becomes more and more desperate, so too will its
response become more brutal. Can the international community depend
and pin their hopes on further defections and pilots refusing to carry
out such orders, like the two that yesterday sought asylum in Malta?
Maybe. But the prudent person would argue that is a risk too grave to
take and one that effectively gambles with the lives of thousands. The
city of Benghazi, reportedly under the control of the regime’s
opponents, has a population of 600,000. It will be the first to be hit
and the international community will be unable to do anything but
disgracefully watch.

Failure to prevent genocides and massacres around the world has put
the international community on the wrong side of history. Yet, this is
a chance to prevent another mass atrocity from taking place, a chance
for us to take a responsible measure rather than a reactionary one
that comes too late. The international community has the capacity to
limit Gaddafi’s capacity for mass murder by keeping his bombers
grounded.

The measure itself will be difficult to contest. Protestors have been
fired on from planes and helicopters already. Al-Jazeera has reported
of military aircraft firing live ammunition yesterday at crowds of
anti-government protesters in the capital Tripoli. Yesterday’s
defection by two Libyan pilots proves that the order to slaughter the
people has already been given. One can only hope that an internal
dispute within the Libyan government prevented a further two from
being deployed for the same purpose. The Libyans may not be so lucky
again.

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