Libyan Rebels Push Towards Tripoli on Two Fronts

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Peter Graff

2011-07-06T212010Z_307909548_GM1E7770F1801_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

A Libyan boy flashing a victory sign attends a rally against Muammar Gaddafi in Misrata July 6, 2011.  

REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

AL-QAWALISH, Libya (Reuters) – Rebel fighters seized a village south of the Libyan capital and another group advanced toward Tripoli from the east on Wednesday in the biggest push in weeks toward Muammar Gaddafi’s main stronghold.

Rebels firing their rifles into the air in celebration poured into the village of Al-Qawalish, 100 km (60 miles) southwest of Tripoli, after a six-hour battle with pro-Gaddafi forces who had been holding the town.

Rushing through an abandoned checkpoint where government troops had left tents and half-eaten bread in their rush to get away, the rebels ripped down pro-Gaddafi flags.

Farther north, rebels pushed westward from the city of Misrata to within 13 km of the center of the town of Zlitan, where large numbers of pro-Gaddafi forces are based.

But they came under artillery fire. Doctors at the al-Hekma hospital in Misrata said 14 fighters had been killed on Wednesday and about 50 were injured.

The advances came amid reports that Gaddafi — under pressure from a five-month uprising against his rule, sanctions and a NATO bombing campaign — was seeking a deal under which he would step down.

His government has denied any such negotiations are underway, and NATO’s chief said he had no confirmation that Gaddafi was looking for a deal to relinquish power.

A Libyan official told Reuters on Wednesday there were signs a solution to the conflict could be found by the start of August, though he did not say what that solution might involve.

In the rebel-held cities of Benghazi and Misrata, thousands demonstrated against Gadaffi, waving European and rebel flags and calling for the end of his four-decade rule.

The rebel advances followed weeks of largely static fighting. Heavily armed Gaddafi forces still lie between the rebels and Tripoli, and previous rebel advances have either bogged down or quickly turned into retreats.

But with Al-Qawalish now in rebel hands, they can advance northeast to the larger town of Garyan, which controls the main highway leading into Tripoli. Libyan state television reported on Wednesday that NATO hit targets in Garyan as well fuel tanks in the town of Brega, 200 km (130 miles) west of Benghazi.

The previous big advance in the region was last month, when rebels pushed 20 km (12 miles) north from their base in the Western Mountains to the town of Bir al-Ghanam.

Misrata Push

At the frontline on the outskirts of Zlitan, a unit of fighters had built a sand-bank behind which they could shelter while firing at government troops. There were still sounds of intermittent shelling as night fell.

Unit commander Tarek Mardi, a 36-year-old former banker, said pro-Gaddafi forces had tried to push his fighters back but they had held their ground.

“Why isn’t NATO doing its job, where are the Apaches?” he asked, referring to the attack helicopters the alliance had deployed to Libya. “We are protecting our people, our country. We want to save our land from Gaddafi. He is a criminal.”

More than 100,000 rebel supporters spilled into the streets of Benghazi waving European and rebel flags and chanting slogans against the Libyan leader.

Gaddafi, who has ruled oil producer Libya for 41 years, says the rebels are armed criminals and al Qaeda militants. He has described the NATO campaign as an act of colonial aggression aimed at stealing Libya’s oil.

Deal Talk

A Russian newspaper this week quoted what it described as a high-level source as saying Gaddafi is sounding out the possibility of stepping down on condition there was a political role for one of his sons.

A Libyan government spokesman denied that report, saying Gaddafi’s future was not up for negotiation.

Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told Reuters in Tripoli that a solution to the conflict could be found before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins early in August.

“There are signals that the crisis will find a solution in the coming weeks. We will do whatever possible so that our people will spend Ramadan in peace,” he said.

“Currently the key hurdle to a solution is the NATO military campaign, and we hope that our friends in the African Union organization will do whatever possible to convince it to stop its aggression against our people.”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he had no confirmed information that Gaddafi had sounded out the possibility of stepping down.

“But it is quite clear that the end state must be that he leaves power,” Rasmussen told a news conference in Brussels.

(Additional reporting by Nick Carey in Misrata, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, Lamine Chikhi in Tripoli, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Maria Golovnina in Benghazi, Joseph Nasr in Berlin and Moscow bureau; Writing by Christian Lowe and David Dolan; Editing by Diana Abdallah)

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Iraqi Fights Graft, Crime in Interior Ministry

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Missy Ryan and Muhanad Mohammed

2010-01-13T225914Z_513309992_GM1E61E0J8I01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-MINISTRY

Interior Ministry Inspector General, Aqeel al-Turaihi speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad January 11, 2010. Outside the office of Aqeel al-Turaihi, inspector general at what is seen as a corrupt country’s most corrupt government agency, hangs a ‘Board of Honour’ showing photos of slain colleagues. Since he began probing theft, human rights abuses and police infiltration by militias in Iraq’s Interior Ministry in 2006, more than 40 members of Turaihi’s team have been assassinated. Picture taken January 11, 2010.

REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Outside the office of Aqeel al-Turaihi, inspector general at what is seen as a corrupt country’s most corrupt government agency, hangs a ‘Board of Honour’ showing photos of slain colleagues. Since he began probing theft, human rights abuses and police infiltration by militias in Iraq’s Interior Ministry in 2006, more than 40 members of Turaihi’s team have been assassinated.

“We are targeted from two sides: by terrorists because we are part of a security agency and by unscrupulous officials because we fight corruption,” he said.

Assailants have tried several times to kill Turaihi himself, an amateur poet and one-time activist against dictator Saddam Hussein, including a bomb attack on his convoy two years ago. The most recent threat on his life was less than a month ago.

Yet, Turaihi said, big strides had been made in combating malfeasance in the ministry, a vast bureaucracy that includes more than 300,000 police and about 200,000 other employees.

“There has been a big improvement. When we talk about the problems that might exist in the ministry, we need to note that we’re watching them closely and working hard to correct them.”

As Iraq battles a stubborn insurgency and takes on greater responsibility for security from U.S. troops, it must face not just corruption but allegations police or soldiers take bribes from militants or even collude in bloody attacks on civilians.

In a new report, parliament’s security and defense committee charges security forces were at least indirectly responsible in recent attacks on state buildings that have added a new element of uncertainty before national elections in March.

Seven or eight members of security forces remain in police custody after those attacks, committee member Falah Zaidan said.

Ammar Tu’ma, another lawmaker on the committee, said security forces were infiltrated.

“There are elements complicit with terrorists in implementing these explosions,” he said.

While officials deny any systemic wrongdoing among uniformed Iraqis, they acknowledge shortcomings in keeping Iraqis safe and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed dire consequences for those taking part in such attacks.

EJECTING CRIMINAL ELEMENTS

In the bloody years after Saddam’s ooverthrow, when U.S. officials disbanded security forces and rebuilt them anew, the Interior Ministry was widely believed to be in the grip of Shi’ite militias that went after adversaries with impunity and targeted Iraqis from the once-dominant Sunni minority.

Turaihi said most criminal elements were ‘cleansed’ from the ministry.

“There was a time when the ministry may not have been so professional and its loyalties might have been weak, but those loyalties have now come together under a national banner.”

Critics are skeptical about how zealous Turaihi and other anti-corruption officials in Iraq have been in that fight.

Zaidan said Turaihi, whose 2,600 inspectors oversee a ministry of 500,000 employees, and his Defense Ministry counterpart were not up to snuff and may need to be replaced.

While graft is sure to be a hot issue in the March 7 national polls, Iraq’s record on going after iniquitous officials, especially those from senior levels, is poor.

Iraq is still ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries even as it stands on the verge of signing energy deals that could bring a flood of new oil revenue.

The Interior Ministry has been especially problematic. An independent panel reported there were more Interior employees convicted of corruption in 2008 than any other ministry.

The same year, senior officials shut down 135 suspected corruption cases across the government, and another 1,552 were abandoned because suspects were covered by an amnesty law that has been morphed to become a corruption shield.

Turaihi said he did not support a full cancellation of the controversial article that allows ministers to protect subordinates, but said it should be used only to protect prosecution of ‘unintentional’ crimes.

(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim, Suadad al-Salhy and Khalid al-Ansary; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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