I’m going to go out on a prediction limb here and wish a pre-emptive merry 42nd birthday to the absurdly named Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya on September the 1st. This is not motivated by any particular desire for the continuation of Gaddafite rule beyond or up to that date – indeed, I’m publishing this partly in order to tempt fate and ensure that, Sod’s Law, as soon as I publicly state that I think Gaddafi will remain in hiding for a good while longer yet, he is instantly and miraculously captured. But, rationally, as Cameron and Obama declare that the end is near for Gaddafi in a manner strangely similar to George Bush’s hopelessly premature Iraqi victory dance (held off the coast of California rather than in Iraq for safety reasons), I don’t hold out any great hope for that.
My suspicions were first aroused by the astonishing ease with which the rebels were able to penetrate Tripoli: after months of repeatedly conquering the same 7 square feet outside Brega, they have all at once stormed the city, and at this very moment have more or less occupied at least part of Gaddafi’s compound in Bab al-Aziziya. This is partly due, of course, to the existence of sleeper cells inside the capital itself. But the very fact that they were allowed to sail into the city so swiftly, plus the surprising surrender of regime forces outside the compound this afternoon, clearly indicates that Gaddafi is no longer there. If this were truly Gaddafi’s last stand, the rebels would still be in Zlitan. Many people have claimed that the sudden storming of Tripoli took Gaddafi completely by surprise, citing this as another indubitable reason that he must be there somewhere. I am not intimately familiar with Gaddafi’s psyche, but I’m fairly sure that after nearly 42 years in power he must have had some sort of emergency plans in place in order to escape when he needed to. He is shrewder than we think. The media is slowly coming to realise this as the familiar hiding places are raided and Gaddafi stubbornly continues not to turn up in any of them.
So where is he? My ill-educated bet would be in Sabha or Sirt. Sabha is remote and Sirt is heavily fortified, and both towns are staunchly supportive of the Jamahiriya. As Gaddafi’s hometown, Sirt would be favourite – he may even have constructed a network of tunnels and rooms under the city, as was the case in Benghazi and as is suspected in Tripoli. If so, it could take weeks to capture Sirt, and months to find Gaddafi afterwards – if he’s even there. There are already rumours of Scud missiles with biological or chemical attachments – who knows what else might be squirrelled away in the tunnels under Sirt or Tripoli?