Saturday, May 28, 2011

Libya News Update: U.S. House to Vote on War; NATO Escalates Bombing

Posted at 06:50 PM ET, 05/27/2011

House to vote next week on ending U.S. involvement in Libya

By Felicia Sonmez

The House will vote on a Libya-related resolution sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) next week. (AP Photo/The Seattle Times, Ken Lambert)The already-contentious congressional debate over the U.S. intervention in Libya is about to get even more heated.

The House will vote next week on a measure calling on President Obama to end U.S. military involvement in Libya, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) office announced Friday evening.

The measure, sponsored by liberal anti-war Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), cites the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which states that any military operation not previously authorized by Congress must be halted 60 days after the president notifies Congress about the mission.

Pursuant to the War Powers Resolution, the Kucinich measure reads, Congress “directs the President to remove the United States Armed Forces from Libya by not later than the date that is 15 days after the date of the adoption of this concurrent resolution.”

The bill, H.Con.Res. 51, is likely to be taken up in the latter half of next week, according to the schedule distributed by Cantor’s office. As of June 1, the first day the measure might be up for debate, the United States will have been involved in the Libyan conflict for 72 days.

Bipartisan discontent with the U.S. involvement in Libya bubbled up Thursday in votes on Libya-related amendments to a defense authorization bill. One amendment would ensure that no defense funds would go toward the U.S. mission; another would bar U.S. ground troops from being used in the operation. (The White House has said it will not deploy ground troops.)

In the Senate, there remains bipartisan opposition to U.S. involvement in Libya, but the only legislation that appears to be on tap is a measure authored by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) supporting “the limited use of military force” in Libya and calling on Obama to submit a report on U.S. policy objectives in the country.

The Senate isn’t expected to take up that measure until early June, when it returns from a week-long recess. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Friday that he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had spoken with McCain about the legislation and that the upper chamber “would likely turn to such a resolution within a week or two after we get back.”

Fresh NATO strikes rock Libyan capital

Explosions reported in Tripoli, hours after Russia agrees to mediate Libyan leader's exit, saying Gaddafi should leave

Last Modified: 28 May 2011 05:04

Libya's capital, Tripoli, has been rocked by a series of NATO air strikes for the fifth night in a row, Libyan state television reported.

A number of explosions were heard throughout the night into Saturday, and at least one of the blasts was said to be near a compound used by Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader.

Columns of smoke were seen rising over the skyline of the city and loud booms could be heard.

State television said the overnight NATO raids also caused "human and material" damage near Mizda, to the south.

Misurata, Libya's third largest city now controlled by opposition forces and the scene of some of the fiercest battles in the conflict, was hit by a second day of heavy fighting on its western outskirts on Friday.

Doctors at the local hospital said five opposition fighters were killed and more than a dozen others wounded.

Forfeiting legitimacy

The series of overnight attacks and clashes came just hours after Russian president Dmitry Medvedev agreed to mediate Gaddafi's exit, saying the Libyan leader had "forfeited legitimacy" to rule.

Keep up with all the latest developments here
Medvedev told reporters from the G8 summit in France on Friday that Gaddafi "should leave".

"If Gaddafi makes this decision, which will be beneficial for the country and the people of Libya, then it will be possible to discuss the form of his departure, what country may accept him and on what terms, and what he may keep and what he must lose," Medvedev told reporters.

Previous attempts at mediation by the African Union, Turkey and the United Nations have collapsed upon Gaddafi's refusal to leave and the opposition's refusal to accept anything less.

Russia, which has previously criticised NATO's involvement in Libya, is possibly in a position to end the conflict, although some analysts are sceptical of its level of influence, given Gaddafi's resistance to other mediation attempts and insistence on maintaining power throughout the conflict.

More local powers were unconvinced by any real potential for change through Russia's mediation.

"Knowing his state of mind, I don't think he is going to step down," Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa said.

Libyan opposition spokesman and vice-chairman of the opposition's National Transitional Council, Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, said Russia's offer should have come sooner.

"It's too late, and it's not a big deal," he said.

Analysts have also suggested that Russia's new-found willingness to mediate in Libya could be a part of its hope to gain some level of influence in the region in the post-uprising Arab world.

Medvedev could also be eyeing Libya's oil and gas markets, analysts have said, and preparing for the prospect that the lucrative Libyan market will fall into full opposition control.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Why no mention of a ceasefire for Libya, Obama?

The best way to protect desperate Libyan civilians is for Nato to reverse its mistake of taking sides

Jonathan Steele, Friday 27 May 2011 23.00 BST

Beware ministers' claims that a military campaign is making slow but steady progress. It nearly always means the opposite.

If "progress" was really being made in Libya, why would it be necessary for Britain and France to send attack helicopters? Why would General Sir David Richards, the chief of the defence staff, call for Nato to bomb infrastructure in Tripoli?

Above all, why has Barack Obama used his European tour this week to abandon his public caution and make it clear that regime change is now the western objective in Libya? The more Nato escalates in word and deed, the clearer it is that the campaign has stalled.

What is going on in Libya is civil war but one that is stalemated, and has been so for at least a month. Gaddafi's forces will not be able to recapture Benghazi and the other major cities of eastern Libya just as the rebels will not be able to capture Tripoli. In light of this, Nato is doing all it can to assassinate Gaddafi in the fragile hope his death will lead to his regime's implosion and rebel victory by a different route.

It is true Gaddafi and his family have done their best to suppress the building of independent political and administrative institutions during their decades in power. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, where the army was able to break from supporting the dictator and real political parties existed, the Gaddafis have kept the state in their pocket. But even in this vacuum it does not follow that Gaddafi's death would suddenly bring peace and end the many conflicts in Libyan society.

The word absent from Obama's remarks this week, as well as from Sarkozy and Cameron, is "ceasefire". An "immediate ceasefire" was one of the main demands of the UN security council resolution, which also authorised a no-fly zone at the start of the crisis, but it has been consistently ignored by Nato.

On Thursday, almost unreported anywhere, an African Union summit called for a halt to Nato's airstrikes as well as a ceasefire and negotiations on transforming Libya into a democracy. The same evening the Libyan prime minister, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, said for the first time that his government was ready to talk to rebel leaders to prepare a new constitution.

Meanwhile, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, the UN secretary general's special envoy on Libya, has been quietly shuttling between Tripoli and Benghazi, trying to broker a ceasefire and talks.

The obstacles are mainly on the rebels' side. Flushed with military support from Nato, they insist that Gaddafi must leave power before any ceasefire. Sending Apache helicopters and escalating Nato's offensive role only hardens the rebels' intransigence and further delays a political resolution.

A ceasefire will have to be accompanied by an independent monitoring mission on the ground, preferably from the UN or the African Union, though Nato will no doubt keep up surveillance from the air. There has to be full access for humanitarian aid to civilians, as al-Khatib has been insisting. Close to a million people have fled the country. Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes and are in dire need.

Nato officials promptly kicked the Libyan government's offer of a ceasefire into the long grass, insisting it is "not credible". How can they know that? They claim previous ceasefire offers were shams since Gaddafi's forces never acted on them.

But if they are to stick, ceasefires have to be mutual and the rebel side has never offered one. First, they wanted to be saved from defeat, and the initial Nato strikes achieved this for them. Then they thought Nato would help them win so they saw no value in stopping fighting.

The time has come to test the latest ceasefire offer by accepting it in principle and working out a monitoring mechanism. The best way to protect Libya's desperate civilians is for Nato to reverse its mistaken policy of taking sides. It should declare support for the talks on transition that the Libyan government now says it favours.

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