Gaddafi’s servant recounts final days

Mansour Iddhow, a member of Muammar Gaddafi’s inner circle, explains the events that led to the Libyan leader’s death.

AJE interview with Mansour Iddhow

Misrata, Libya – He was humble and polite, a little gaunt with a few days’ stubble growth. But until four months ago, Mansour Iddhow belonged to Muammar Gaddafi’s innermost circle and was a member of his feared security apparatus.

As a member of Gaddafi’s family, he served the Libyan leader for more than 30 years. He stayed with his master to the very end in Sirte until October 20. That was the day the revolution was won, Gaddafi was killed. That day, Mansour Iddhow’s life changed forever.

Today, the 56-year-old father of nine is being kept in a makeshift prison in Misrata, Libya’s third largest city and the scene of some of the regime’s worst crimes committed against the Libyan people.

No charges have been made against him, no accusations of crime or wrongdoing, save that he was a member of the former regime. And no indication of if or when he will be released.

Iddhow said Gaddafi was disappointed that world leaders – his ‘good friends’ – didn’t offer help [Al Jazeera]

Iddhow, the former head of Libya’s homeland security, agreed to speak to me freely. The story he told, some of it for the first time, gives a unique insight into the last days of one of the Arab world’s most brutal leaders.

“He showed no fear,” he told me. “Even at the end he seemed calm and was joking.”

But his story paints a picture of chaos, confusion and death as Gaddafi’s hold on power slipped away; a leader who had no control and no plan other than waiting to die.

As Tripoli fell in August, Gaddafi and his cohort headed for Sirte, considered his hometown and close to his birth place. Gaddafi considered no other options.

“Unfortunately, there was no escape plan,” he explained with something of a sigh. “Gaddafi didn’t plan anything, nor did his son Motassim, nor the head of security.”

“From the moment we arrived in Sirte, Abdullah Senussi and I advised him to leave because it was a small city and could easily be blocked. It was like a room, with nowhere to go. Staying was suicide. But Gaddafi did not listen to us.”

They foraged for food in abandoned houses, changing their hiding places every few days. The bombardments grew more intense. They suffered daily casualties and the situation was becoming hopeless.

Hedged in

Iddhow shook his head as he remembered those days and the sinking feeling that many among his ranks began to feel.

“[Gaddafi] told us that those who were scared could leave, but [that] he had a warrant against him from the ICC. He said he didn’t want to put neighbouring countries in an awkward position by going there.

“He said he preferred to die in Libya rather than be tried in an international court,” said Iddhow.

“He spoke about dying all the time. He said he would die in Sirte or Jaref, his birthplace, where we tried to get to during the escape.”

“He wasn’t scared, he was even making jokes. But you knew death was coming 100 per cent. Then I passed out.”

– Mansour Iddhow

The former leader had said that he would never run away from the country he loved, and that he would die on its soil.

Maybe he never believed it in the beginning, but in the dying days of Sirte it became a reality.

Iddhow recounted Gaddafi’s demeanour while his world was crashing to an end: “He wasn’t afraid. Fear was never present. But he would get angry due to the lack of communication from his good friends in Europe, especially [Silvio] Berlusconi, [former Italian prime minster], [former British prime minister] Tony Blair and [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan in Turkey. He considered them personal friends. He was disappointed they didn’t try to find a solution for him.”

Many of Gaddafi’s fighters were not well-trained professionals, Iddhow explained. They were volunteers, inexperienced but loyal.

Their stiff resistance tipped off the opposition fighters that someone of high rank was in the city, perhaps one of Gaddafi’s sons. No-one expected Gaddafi to be foolish enough to be surrounded so far from an escape route.

But he was not the man making the decisions, Iddhow maintains.

“Gaddafi’s sons controlled the war effort. The power wasn’t with Gaddafi, but with his sons. Motassim, Saif [al-Islam], Khamis. Saadi didn’t agree with them, Mohammed was out of the picture and Saif al-Arab was opposed to any spilling of Libyan blood. But he died from NATO bombs.”

They couldn’t use satellite phones for fear of NATO detection. Their world shrank rapidly.

In those final days and hours, Gaddafi’s loyal servant described a scene like Armageddon: death and destruction, shells raining down, the fear of the opposition on the ground and NATO in the air. The decision was made to make a run for it.

They were supposed to head out at 4am, but the volunteers were inexperienced. Some slept in, others, unbelievably, made tea.

NATO strikes

By the time everyone was organised, the breakout happened in daylight at 8am. No reconnaissance missions had been sent out, and Gaddafi’s 50 vehicle convoy ran directly into opposition brigades from Misrata.

Then NATO struck.

“Gaddafi and I were in the same vehicle. Our cars were mostly white and the same type but we were parked too close together.

“Again this was a sign of inexperience of many of the volunteers. Suddenly there were huge explosions. NATO hit the car about five metres in front. It was destroyed and everyone killed. Our tyres were destroyed and the airbags went off through the pressure of the explosions.

“There was complete chaos, and then NATO struck again causing severe injuries and deaths. I got Gaddafi out of the car and we ran away towards a small building near the culvert under the road. It was then I was hit by shrapnel in the back and legs. The fire aimed as us was unrelenting.

“The last time I saw him he was sitting talking to Abu Bakr [Younis Jabr, Gaddafi’s defence minister] and his sons by the culvert,” he said.

“He wasn’t scared, he was even making jokes. But you knew death was coming 100 per cent. Then I passed out.”

Gaddafi’s son Motassim went in another direction and was captured. He died shortly after from his injuries. Most of the other men were killed, their bodies spread around the area. Some died of bullet wounds, while the charred bodies of others were testimony to the ferocity of the NATO attack.

When asked why he stayed with Gaddafi, Iddhow explained that he was “family”.

His sense of duty and his belief in his role as a loyal and trusted servant were clear. He misses his master, a master he viewed in a different way from the opposition forces.

He accepts that Gaddafi made mistakes, calling his people “rats” and “cockroaches”, and that there were crimes committed against the Libyan population.

But he also still believes that al-Qaeda had a hand in the revolution and will have a hand in the future Libya.

“If it wasn’t for NATO, Gaddafi would not have been defeated,” he told me. “They made the difference.”

After our lengthy, unsupervised interview he was returned to his cell to await his fate, after smiling and thanking me for my time.

He was a member of the bad old Libya, and one wonders how he – and people like him – will fit into the new Libya.

Follow Tony Birtley on Twitter: @tonybirtley

Source: Al Jazeera