From the US to al-Qaeda, the unanimous loathing for Muammar Qaddafi outweighs the world’s feelings for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein when he was ousted eight years ago in a US-led invasion.
“Qaddafi is incomprehensible and illogical, whereas Saddam Hussein was perhaps more cruel,” said Ihsan al-Shamari, a university professor in Baghdad.
“Saddam’s supporters in the Arab world considered him more rational and the context was different because Saddam portrayed himself as a hero of the Arab world” against the US and Iran, he said.
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In fact, never in recent years has a state leader been so widely detested.
For once, the US, al-Qaeda and Iran, as well as the UN and other Western countries, find themselves on the same side in their abhorrence for the Libyan strongman.
When the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973 on Thursday authorizing a no-fly zone and other measures to stop Qaddafi harming civilians in suppressing a revolt, China and Russia abstained instead of using their veto power, despite their misgivings.
As a result, a coalition led by the US, France and Britain launched military operations against Qaddafi on Saturday, reinforced by Arab League approval of a no-fly zone. When exactly eight years earlier US and British troops invaded Iraq to topple Saddam, who had been in power since 1979, they did so without a UN mandate. That was because of a looming threat of a veto by France.
“We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy,” US President Barack Obama said on Saturday to justify military action.
Perhaps few things can be odder than the US finding itself on the same side of the fence as al-Qaeda in their opposition to Qaddafi.
On March 13, Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan considered one of the main theorists of al-Qaeda, called on his countrymen to continue their revolt against Qaddafi “without hesitation or fear.”
The animosity between Qaddafi and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden dates back to 1996, when the militant group tried to assassinate the Libyan leader near his home city of Sirte.
Neither is there any love lost between Qaddafi and Iran. Tehran has supported the “legitimate demands” of the rebels against Qaddafi’s regime, though Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on Sunday his country “doubts” the intentions of the countries taking part in air attacks on Libya.
Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said that although the Iraqi and Libyan dictators had both slaughtered their own people, they were perceived differently in the Arab world.
“Saddam had a lot of support in the region. Even though the Arabs did not savor that he massacred his people, he was considered a main Arab leader in a main Arab country, and was powerful,” he said.
In 1991, Saddam launched a crackdown against a Kurdish uprising in the north and a Shiite revolt in the south, leaving thousands dead. The US, Britain and France decided to establish no-fly zones in the north and south, though without UN authorization.
“Qaddafi has been seen for some time as an oddball, a madman. There are no Qaddafi supporters in the Arab world,” Salem said. “When he began killing his own people, it was not hard to say: ‘Someone has to stop him.’”
In 2003, Iran and the Arab League — with the exception of Kuwait — condemned the Iraq invasion.
The main difference between 2003 and this year is the immediate threat to Libyan civilians, said Ali al-Saffar, an analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit in London.
“There was no compelling reason to invade Iraq,” he said. “If Saddam had shelled Iraqi villages like Qaddafi has done, the situation would have been different.”
The opposition to Qaddafi is stronger among Shiites than Sunni Muslims. Shiites accuse Qaddafi of being behind the disappearance of Lebanese Shiite leader Musa al-Sadr, who vanished during a 1978 visit to Libya.
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