LONDON (Reuters) - Resurgent violence in Tripoli shows Muammar Gaddafi’s threat of a counter-revolutionary “volcano” in Libya is far from idle, with die-hard fighters, secret arms stashes and possibly tribal solidarity favoring his bid to cripple a rebel takeover.
For Gaddafi, staying alive and evading capture are the supreme immediate imperatives, for his sons are believed to lack the political clout to rally significant numbers of Libyans against rebel rule in the event of his death.
To that end, Gaddafi is likely to be counting on aides who are reputed to have built and maintained a network of tunnels under the city for use in the event of a threat to Gaddafi’s rule, which has seen off several coup attempts over the decades.
His security experts will know the location of emergency arms stockpiles and may seek access to a research center near Tripoli said by a former U.N. inspector to stock uranium and other material that might be used for a nuclear “dirty bomb.”
The UK-based Exclusive Analysis risk forecasting company said that the main terrorist threat emanating from Libya in the next six months was likely to be from Gaddafi loyalists.
It cited the case of a Libyan soldier who gave himself up to Tunisian authorities in Tunis, saying he had been sent by Gaddafi’s army to bomb an Arab embassy in the capital.
Libyan state television has routinely accused Arab states Qatar and the United Arab Emirates of being “traitors” for supporting a rebel offensive seeking to topple Gaddafi.
“A lot depends on the strength and effectiveness of his support network,” said Ben Barry, a former British Army brigadier and now a land warfare expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London (IISS).
“(Ratko) Mladic and (Radovan) Karadzic had good support, access to income and links to political extremists and organised crime. If Gaddafi has similar connections, he will be better able to make himself hard to find,” he said, referring to Bosnian Serb leaders now at the Yugoslav war crimes court.
Gaddafi takes ostentatious pride in his record as a plotter and clandestine operator.
The Tripoli Museum on Green Square in the center of the city has for years displayed the venerable VW Beetle he used to travel around the country when secretly planning the 1969 putsch that toppled King Idriss.
Those reflexes may have dulled over the years, but Gaddafi, if he still has access to large amounts of money, may well be able to cause trouble by buying support from Libyan tribes.
His hometown of Sirte is heavily defended by members of his Gaddafa tribe, and the security situation in the southwest of the vast desert country is unclear.
Alex Warren, of the Frontier MEA consultancy, said that old feuds in the south might revive in the collapse of any remaining law and order in coming weeks. The abundance of weapons now circulating throughout the country also boded ill.
“Whoever wins the battle for Tripoli has not necessarily won the war for Libya,” he said.
Analysts say they expect efforts are underway to negotiate a ceasefire around Sirte, possibly in return for the appointment of a senior Gaddafa clansman into a post-war authority.
But the bigger picture, for now, remains broadly favorable to the rebels’ chances of stabilizing Tripoli.
Western governments are racing to help the rebels shut down his access to emergency arms stashes and prevent him resorting to any leftover material for a nuclear “dirty bomb” stored at the Tajoura research center on Tripoli’s outskirts.
But the most important factor against him may simply be that opposition to his rule, suppressed for decades, has sprung exuberantly into the open with the entry of rebel troops.
For now that gives the rebels and their Arab and Western backers the political cover to carry out the violent steps likely to be needed to rid Tripoli of his die-hard supporters and capture the defiant former strongman. Whether the rebels can stabilize large swathes of the interior is less clear.
Many Libya analysts say the time for a political deal has long gone, and Gaddafi’s fate will be settled at gunpoint.
In Benghazi, Omar Hariri, the National Transitional Council’s (NTC) military affairs chief, told Reuters: “I don’t think he will fight (to the death). He has nothing to fight with. He’s on his last gasp, but he won’t surrender easily.”
“For him to surrender we have to know here he is. God willing, he won’t slip away.”
Shashank Joshi, of the Royal United Services Institute think-tank, said he was optimistic a post-war Libya would not descend into the chaos that hit Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
“We have solid grounds for optimism. We should not assume chaos will be the inevitability or highly probable,” he said.
“It’s an absolute certainty that British (officials), working with other foreign diplomats . have been thinking about ways in which to manage the transition smoothly. They have not left this to chance, at least on paper. Because for obvious reasons the shadow of Iraq hangs over all the participants in this venture.”
There is evidence of planning for the aftermath.
The fact that much of the coastal city of two million, which includes people from all of Libya’s disparate tribal and ethnic groups, rose against his long rule at the weekend, or at least stood aside as rag-tag rebel army entered, often unopposed, shows evidence of rebel expertise at planning and intelligence that can be put to use in the hunt for Gaddafi.
Gaddafi’s former spy chief, Moussa Koussa, who defected in March and is now based in Qatar, is believed to have been working with former colleagues inside Libya to help the rebels.
Security analysts say Koussa, reputed to be highly adept at subversion, is only one of several senior former security, military and intelligence officers now working against Gaddafi.
Saad Djebbar, a London-based analyst on North Africa and former legal adviser to Libya, said Libyans would now want to see quick gains in the form of a rapid influx of food and medical supplies and repairs to damaged roads.
Libyans had come out in support of Gaddafi’s removal “by the millions.” “If they hadn‘t, how come a rag-tag army like the rebels got into Tripoli so easily?”
Barry of the IISS said the NTC’s post-war plan appeared to be a comprehensive attempt to avoid the mistakes made in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The quicker and more effectively they stabilize the country, reconcile the various factions (including people who fought for the regime) and kick start the economy, the less support Gaddafi and any die-hard loyalists will have.”
Reporting by William Maclean; additional reporting by Robert Birsel in Benghazi and Tim Castle in London; Editing by Jon Boyle