Figure this one out: Areas of Libya controlled by Col. Muammar Qaddafi could soon be in dire need of food and medical aid to cope with shortages and a broken healthcare system as a result of United Nations-imposed sanctions.
That is if NATO and allied backed-rebels fail to either force Mr. Qaddafi from office or negotiate a deal that allows for a transfer of power.
Qaddafi-controlled western Libya isn’t quite there yet, but is well on its way to becoming yet another part of the world struggling with a humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations.
The UN reported this week that a fact-finding mission it had sent to Qaddafi-controlled parts of Libya had found the region suffering from rising food prices, cash and fuel shortages and a decaying healthcare system.
Ironically, the mission amounted to the UN surveying the consequences of its own actions. The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on the Qaddafi regime that make importing fuel and goods difficult as well as a non-fly zone that on the one hand is supposed to protect innocent lives and on the other complicate Libyan attempts to circumvent the sanctions.
To step up pressure on Mr. Qaddafi, NATO-backed rebel advances in Nafusa, a range of hills that stretch from Yafran southwest of Tripoli to the border with Tunisia, aim to cut the Libyan capital off from water and oil supplies. Tripoli gets much of its water and oil through pipelines from the southern area of Ghadames that traverse Nafusa. France recently disclosed that its air force had dropped arms and ammunition in Nafusa to reinforce the rebel efforts.
The isolation of the Qaddafi regime is only likely to further increase as the rebel Transition National Council (TNC) that operates from the eastern city of Benghazi and controls much of eastern Libya garners increasing international recognition.
Britain on Wednesday announced that it was breaking diplomatic relations with the Qaddafi regime, expelling Libyan diplomats and recognizing the TNC as the country’s sole legitimate representative. The move allows it to unfreeze seized Libyan assets and hand them over to the cash-starved TNC.
It follows recognition of the TNC earlier this month by the Libya Contact Group, which groups the United States, the European Union, NATO and the Arab League.
Few are going to rush to the aid of Qaddafi-controlled parts of Libya as the going gets tougher.
In fact, the increased hardship in Tripoli and elsewhere is part of NATO’s strategy and from the alliance’s perspective it may well be working.
NATO is working on Plan B after its Plan A failed. Plan A anticipated a quick collapse of the Qaddafi regime, either because NATO bombings, defections and sanctions would persuade the Libyan leader to throw his towel into the ring or the mounting pressure would convince one or more of his more people in his inner circle to remove him from power. Neither scenario played out.
Nor did hopes that the rebels with allied backing would force Mr. Qaddafi on to his knees. Instead, Mr. Qaddafi has drawn the line in any negotiated settlement at being forced to go into exile. As a result, the TNC as well as major Western powers have reversed their positions and conceded in recent days that Mr. Qaddafi would be allowed to stay in Libya as part of any settlement as long as he leaves office and disappears into the wilderness.
The Libyan Contact Group at its meeting in Istanbul earlier this month effectively adopted a Turkish roadmap for ending the conflict in Libya that anticipated the need for humanitarian aid for Qaddafi-controlled parts of Libya but put it in the context of an end to hostilities.
The roadmap calls for the withdrawal of Qaddafi forces from all besieged towns and cities, UN peace monitors and establishment of humanitarian aid corridors, and a transition to a democracy with free and fair elections within six months.
Hopes that an agreement could be reached before the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan early next week are fading quickly. Rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil warned on Wednesday that the TNC’s offer that Mr. Qaddafi would be allowed to stay in Libya had expired.
Mr. Jalil’s warning is little more than posturing designed to tighten the screws on Mr. Qaddafi. It’s a tactic that is unlikely to work. Mr. Qaddafi has made clear that what counts for him is what is said in Washington, London and Paris, not Benghazi. Neither Britain nor France has backed down from their concession that the Libyan leader will be allowed to stay in the country.
Efforts to achieve agreement are however nowhere close to conclusion. As if achieving agreement on the modalities of a transitional post-Qaddafi Libya is not complicate enough, the International Criminal Court in The Hague this week threw a monkey wrench into the diplomatic machinery.
The court warned that the arrest of Mr. Qaddafi so that he could stand trial for war crimes was non-negotiable. No agreement that allowed Mr. Qaddafi to live out his life in peace and quiet could cancel the obligation of countries like Britain and France to ensure that the ICC’s arrest warrant is executed.
The court’s warning is likely to reinforce Mr. Qaddafi’s stubborn personality and his inclination to stick to his guns at whatever cost. That does not bode well for a resolution of the conflict any time soon. In fact, it may well help to make the irony of the need for humanitarian help for Qaddafi-held areas of Libya that result from the international community’s own actions a reality.
(James M. Dorsey, formerly of The Wall Street Journal, is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer)