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Former Libyan Diplomat on His Defection and Call for Intensification of NATO Operations

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NATO intervention in Libya has been ongoing for four weeks, and the country appears locked in a military stalemate. We are joined by Ibrahim Dabbashi, the Libyan deputy ambassador to the United Nations who defected after Gaddafi’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and now represents the Transitional National Council of Libya. “[Gaddafi] is leaving,” says Dabbashi, “but how long he will stay in power, this is the question… If the operations of NATO intensify with the coming back of the U.S., I think it will take only some weeks. But if it continues at the same level as it is now, I think it will take some months.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Libya, where today the European Union says it’s prepared to launch a military operation for humanitarian assistance, pending a request from the United Nations.

Aid workers Monday evacuated about a thousand people from Misurata. The BBC reports thousands more are waiting to be rescued. Forces loyal to Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi have shelled the city incessantly this week. Hundreds of people are thought to have been killed. Food and water are in scare supply.

NATO intervention in Libya has been ongoing for four weeks. The country appears locked in a military stalemate. At the outset of the military campaign, Western air power repelled advancing government forces from the rebel stronghold Benghazi in eastern Libya. But now the regime is trying to regain territory in the east. On Sunday, Gaddafi’s forces mounted a heavy assault on rebels holding the key town of Ajdabiya.

LIBYAN REBEL: And where is NATO? We are waiting for NATO, for the world. You know, we won’t wait for a person like this man or me or any other guy. This is international. International. Where is NATO? Where is America? Where is France? Where is Britain? Where is Canada?

AMY GOODMAN: Gaddafi’s assault on the western part of the country has also intensified. Human Rights Watch issued a report Friday saying government forces fired cluster bombs into residential areas of Misurata, the only western Libyan city still in rebel hands. The rights group strongly condemned the use of cluster bombs, saying, quote, “They pose a huge risk to civilians, both during attacks because of their indiscriminate nature and afterward because of the still-dangerous unexploded duds scattered about.” A Gaddafi regime spokesperson denied clusters bombs had been fired.

MUSSA IBRAHIM: We can never do this. We can’t. Our — morally, legally, because this is our country, we can’t do that. We will never do it. We challenge them to prove it. To use these bombs, you know, the evidence will remain for days and weeks, and we know the international community is coming en masse on our country soon.

AMY GOODMAN: To discuss intervention in Libya, we’re joined by Ibrahim Dabbashi, the former deputy ambassador of Libya to the United Nations. He was the first Libyan ambassador to defect following Gaddafi’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. Mr. Dabbashi called then for international military intervention in Libya. He now represents the Transitional National Council of Libya at the U.N.

Welcome very much to Democracy Now! Can you talk about why you stopped representing Gaddafi?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Well, when we started seeing all these atrocities on TV, and we are contacting our people on the ground there, and we realized that the regime is not willing to permit the people to demonstrate peacefully, and he started shooting on them from the first day. And I saw the son of Gaddafi going out to TV, and he’s menacing the Libyan people, and he is — certainly has a message from his father to indicate that they are going to continue shooting the people, killing the people, and practically they declared war on the Libyan people, and practically they are telling the Libyan people even, whether — “Either we rule you, or we will kill you.” So, at that moment, we took a decision — I took a decision with my colleagues at the mission at the United Nations just to break up with the regime.

AMY GOODMAN: Weren’t you the first ambassador to defect?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Yes, I was the first ambassador to defect, yes. And I also called on all my colleagues in our embassies to defect, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And did they?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Most of them did, certainly. Many of them announced it. Others did not announce it for security reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re now representing the rebels. How did you get in touch with them?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Well, we are — we are in a daily contact with them, whether in Benghazi, as the main members of the council, of the National Transitional Council, is there, and also we have some people who are still in Doha, as the president the crisis group.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did they trust you, at the beginning? You had been representing Gaddafi through the beginning of his attack on the people.

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Well, they — anyway, I have my reputation, anyway. And I, as a career diplomat, my post at the United Nations was not a nomination by Gaddafi, but it is only a regular diplomat nomination at the United Nations.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see Gaddafi and his son Saif Gaddafi as one?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Certainly, their behavior is the same. Unfortunately, the whole family — now we realize that the whole family has the same behavior.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised by what happened in Libya, what Gaddafi has done, after the Egyptian uprising and Mubarak being forced out of office?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Well, we are not surprised, because we know the nature of the regime. But in fact, we didn’t expect him to use the live bullets from the first day. We expected him to use tear gas, some other means, rather than declaring the force on people.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you in favor, Mr. Dabbashi, of diplomatic negotiations before the military intervention?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Well, I don’t think there is a common ground with Colonel Gaddafi to negotiate any solution with him, because I think he — all the ideas that he has in mind, that any negotiations has to lead to his staying in power. And I think this is not the ground, the suitable ground, for negotiations. The first condition for the Libyan people now is to — for Gaddafi to step down, and then they can negotiate any solution.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think there is any chance that Gaddafi will voluntarily go?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: I don’t think so, unless — unless he feels the pressure. Unless he feels that his life and the life of his family is threatened seriously, I don’t think he will step down.

AMY GOODMAN: Regime change was not mandated by the U.N. Security Council resolution for the no-fly zone, yet it has become an explicit goal of the intervention. Can you comment on this?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Well, certainly, the change of the regime, it is not among the objectives of the resolutions of the United Nations, but the main objective is the protection of the civilians. And I think Gaddafi, with his behavior now in Libya, he is — he constitutes a threat to the lives of the Libyan people. And I think since he is the danger, in himself, so at this stage I think the international community has to declare him as a dangerous person on the civilians, and they have to take the necessary measures to get rid of him. There is no alternative.

AMY GOODMAN: Who are the rebels?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Well, the rebels are the Libyan people. I think it is — let me say that they are 95 percent of the Libyan people. Gaddafi has only with him the security brigades and the members of the revolutionary committees.

AMY GOODMAN: Who are the security brigades? Who is with him? And do you see a chance they could defect?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Well, let me say that, to go back a little bit earlier, Gaddafi — Gaddafi, about 20 years ago, he dismantled the national army. And instead of another national army, he constituted these security brigades, which its objective is to secure him and his family only. It is not for the security of the state. So, these are constituted from young Libyan peoples, and many of them are Libyans who took the Libyan nationality a few years ago, most of them Chadians or Malians, and constituted also from some mercenaries who have been recruited also elsewhere from Algeria, Mali, Chad and Niger. And there are others who are simply Libyans who came from the army, who — or transferred from the army to the brigades.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read to you a piece that was in the Boston Globe written by Alan Kuperman, a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, called “The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention.” He says, “Evidence is now in that President [Barack] Obama grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military action in Libya. The president claimed that intervention was necessary to prevent a 'bloodbath' in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and last rebel stronghold.

“But Human Rights Watch has released data on Misurata, the next-biggest city in Libya and scene of protracted fighting, revealing that [Moammar] Khadafy is not deliberately massacring civilians but rather narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against his government.” What do you think of that?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Well, with due respect to the professor’s views, I think he doesn’t have enough information about what’s going on in Libya. In fact, Gaddafi is shelling in an indiscriminate way the whole cities of Libya. Now, he’s still shelling Misurata, also the cities in the Western Mountain. It is still — yesterday only, 120 people has been killed in the Western Mountain cities and I think 20 or 30 people in Misurata. So I think it is a large-scale killing.

AMY GOODMAN: Could the NATO intervention actually increase the repression and the killing, while failing to resolve the underlying conflict?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: No, I think — I think the repression and the killing is reaching its highest rate. And I think Gaddafi is not sparing any force to kill the Libyan people, to enforce the Libyan people to stay under his rule. And I don’t think any intervention will put more pressure on the Libyan people. Certainly, we reached a stage when the Libyan — where the Libyan people are looking for outside help in any way.

AMY GOODMAN: A member of the Libyan opposition met with the French president, Sarkozy, last week. He suggested the military intervention may need to escalate its operations to be successful.

SULIMAN FORTEA: My message is to the international community, to see, to watch what they’re seeing, and it’s not something which is really possible to leave it like this. It’s OK. It’s a U.N. resolution. They have to protect human — they have to protect people with any means, whether they have to go underground, we have — they have to go with any different, maybe, weapons, different machinery, supplying weapons to the local people, to the army in Libya. It’s something is going on and on. Gaddafi must leave with his family, and keep Libyan free and live as a human being.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Suliman Fortea of the Libyan National Council. Are ground troops eventually going to be necessary?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Well, it is clear now, now, that more action has to be taken. The most important for us, we think that the United States has to come back, and it has to start supporting the NATO, as it has started at the first place. We think the United States has not only a national interest; they have a moral responsibility as the only superpower now. So I think they have to come back, and they have to intensify the attacks on the Gaddafi security forces. For the —

AMY GOODMAN: But U.S. runs NATO. What’s the difference between what started with the U.S. and moved on to NATO? How has NATO done things — the attack differently?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Well, I think — I think NATO was — well, the commanders were U.S. at the start. For the first week, it was very effective. It has really disturbed Gaddafi and his military commanders. But in a week, things changed with the transfer of command to the NATO and the withdrawal of the attack — the U.S. force —- I mean, airplane attacks. So we think they gave a chance to Gaddafi to reorganize himself and to start even attacking and trying to recapture the eastern cities. So it is very important that the U.S. come back, especially with their planes, AC-130 and A-10. They are very important for -—


IBRAHIM DABBASHI: Because I think, according to the military experts, these two kind of airplanes can distinguish between the military and civilian targets, especially to military and civilian vehicles, because Gaddafi now is using civilian vehicles in his campaign against the Libyan people, and he diminished his use of tanks. The planes which is now used by the NATO fly at the high altitude, so it is difficult to distinguish between the civilian and the military vehicles.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see Gaddafi leaving?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: He is leaving anyway, because I know that the will — the will and the determination of the Libyan people. But how long he will stay in power, this is the question.

AMY GOODMAN: Where do you see he could go to?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI: If the operations of the NATO intensifies with the coming back of the U.S., I think it will take only some weeks. But if it continues at the same level as it is now, I think it will take some months.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Ibrahim Dabbashi, former deputy ambassador of Libya to the United Nations. He was the first Libyan ambassador to defect following Gaddafi’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. He now represents the Transitional National Council of Libya at the U.N.

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