GRISLY photographs of Muammar Gaddafi’s corpse, and the soul-searching about the tyrant’s demise, should not detract from the reasons why British forces were spearheading Nato-led operations in Libya.
The dictator, in power for 42 brutal years, was ordering the slaughter of his own people in Benghazi when David Cameron and William Hague persuaded the world to act and liberate Libya.
Like Saddam Hussein, who retreated to his Tikrit stronghold in northern Iraq in 2003 after the Allied invasion, Gaddafi ultimately fled to his home town of Sirte where his body was dragged through the streets, presumably by the very people who the tyrant once likened to “rats”.
Yet, while Hussein went on trial in Baghdad before he was hanged, it was not the end of the bloodshed in Iraq – the country was still in American hands at the time. The same cannot be said of Libya, where Gaddafi’s instantaneous death may spare the country of even more bloodshed and martyr status for the ex-dictator.
From a Libyan perspective, this may ease the country’s transition from a dictatorship to a fledgling democracy – the tyrant’s lingering presence, albeit on the run, was proving to be a formidable obstacle to Libya’s National Transitional Council, who should now set out a timetable for elections. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton alluded to this yesterday.
Conversely, Gaddafi’s demise means that he will never be held to account for his many atrocities – the International Criminal Court had a warrant out for his arrest.
This is painful for the families of those killed in the Lockerbie disaster; they still contend that Gaddafi knew the identity of every terrorist involved in the plot, and Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed on the doomed Pan Am Flight 103, says Libya’s NTC leadership have failed to co-operate with his fight for justice.
Likewise the family of Wpc Yvonne Fletcher who was shot dead outside the Libyan Embassy in 1984; this is a pivotal moment in the quest to convict her killer, and Mr Cameron should not be afraid to exert his influence after Britain helped secure the freedom of the Libyan people.
And likewise all those killed by the IRA, a terrorist network funded and supported by Gaddafi’s odious regime.
The Prime Minister should certainly take credit for his role in Gaddafi’s downfall – Nato’s strategy contrasts with the interventionism of the Blair-Bush years – but it will still require considerable diplomacy, nerve and foresight to achieve a lasting peace in Libya and the wider Middle East.
Far from being the end of Libya’s turmoil, Gaddafi’s death is probably only the beginning of the end.