He was without a doubt one of Muammar Gaddafi’s most loyal aides: A career Libyan official who refused to abandon his boss, even as the uprising spread and the Libyan government became an international pariah.
Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi’s public role was to spearhead the international diplomacy aimed at preserving Gaddafi’s grip on power. He tried to broker a deal to dodge sanctions and sell Libyan oil overseas. He spoke repeatedly with European officials; the Turkish foreign minister was another regular correspondent.
He reached out to governments in Africa as well, trying to build support anywhere he could.
Al-Mahmoudi: Talk to Gabon and call Nigeria. Try to get him on the line now, the foreign minister or president.
But his private conversations, particularly with Gaddafi, were often tinged with bitterness. On March 19 he ranted against Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the minister of justice who abandoned the regime to join the National Transitional Council. “This is what we got from Mustafa Abdel Jalil,” Al-Mahmoudi complained. “Our skies are a playground for French, Italian, and American warplanes.”
After the United Nations voted to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, he turned his criticism to another defector, Abdel Rahman Shalgam, the onetime foreign minister.
El Safi: The session is over and Shalgam ran to hug the American slave [Susan Rice].
Al-Mahmoudi: Of course, he is a slave too.
El Safi: What a rude traitor.
Al-Mahmoudi: I swear, we should burn his house and family. We should make a big fire and throw his entire family in it… for the sake of history.
‘They went in and burned everything’
The siege of Misrata was a turning point for the Libyan government, an event which undermined both their military prestige and their claim to be fighting “armed gangs.” The recordings reveal that al-Mahmoudi was privately critical of the government’s strategy there.
One particularly revealing exchange deals with Tawerga, a town just to the south of Misrata which was widely viewed as a bastion for Gaddafi loyalists. Most of the town’s residents had fled; Human Rights Watch reported last year that militias from Misrata were “terrorising the displaced residents of the nearby town of Tawergha, accusing them of having committed atrocities with Gaddafi forces in Misrata.”
The recordings suggest that fighters from Tawerga did in fact commit atrocities – and that their actions were enabled by the highest levels of the Libyan government. Al-Mahmoudi had this exchange with one of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, on April 4:
Al-Mahmoudi: We gave weapons to the Tawerga; they went in and burned everything. If we pull them out, it will calm down. Even the soldiers do not talk to them. Because when the Tawerga enter the city, they steal and burn.
Saif al-Islam: Okay, okay.
Al-Mahmoudi: They are all from Tawerga.
As the siege dragged on, Al-Mahmoudi came to believe that a withdrawal from Misrata could end the uprising. He spoke with Saif al-Islam on April 2 to discuss a conversation with the Turkish government:
Al-Mahmoudi: I just spoke to the Turks. The issue depends on Misrata, please solve it, urgently. It’s all over, they want to declare a ceasefire, and NATO, too, if we stop Misrata tomorrow.
Saif al-Islam: Okay, okay.
Al-Mahmoudi: It’s the most important issue. I swear he kept me on the phone for an hour. He said everything else you are doing is right. You met the envoy, he went back happy, and today he replied to you. Tomorrow we can send the foreign minister there, but nothing will happen before we stop Misrata.
The war continued, of course, and Gaddafi loyalists would stage several more offensives in Misrata during the months that followed. The Turkish foreign ministry confirmed that foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke with Al-Mahmoudi in early April, and said that the Libyan government “overestimated its power and capabilities to control the situation.”
“By the time the Gaddafi regime finally came to terms with the realities on the ground, its fall was already inevitable given that it had lost all its credibility and legitimacy, not only in the eyes of the Libyan people, but also in the eyes of the international community,” said Selcuk Unal, a spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry, in a written statement to Al Jazeera.
‘I advise you to leave’
By late April, Al-Mahmoudi himself was slowly coming to terms with the gravity of the situation.
He spoke with Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi on April 25. The two men discussed how difficult it had become to find safe meeting places: “[It’s] coming from all sides,” Senussi said, referring to bombings by NATO warplanes. “Deliberate assassination.”
On May 24, Al-Mahmoudi received a call from a man in the United States identified as Mohammed Ajami, who advised him to lie low for a few weeks.
Mohammed Ajami: Hello doctor, sorry to call you so late. I got more information from my friends. They prepared a plan with the Qataris. They are betting on ending everything in four to six weeks. During that time they will strike hard. They told the Americans: give us four to six weeks for the regime to end. The money issue is solved by the Qataris. They say they will pay NATO any amount during that time.
My friend’s advice to you is to be undercover the next six weeks. Increase your security and stay in hiding. Nobody should know your movements. Because they will try to target the big figures of the regime.
It was around this time that the Libyan prime minister also started to receive threatening calls. The first, on May 17, was from a man with a Qatari accent, who told Al-Mahmoudi to “save yourself and go back to your family and your life; I will guarantee your safety.”
Two days later a Libyan man called him and seemed to refer to the previous conversation.
Caller: Doctor, you did many favours for me in the past. So I would like to advise you to listen to what they told you before. The end of the man is coming soon. Your presence next to him, his son, and Abdullah [Senussi] is dangerous for you. If you want to leave, your exit is safe. Because they are wanted. We want you to feel honoured and join us.
Al-Mahmoudi: Okay. Thank you, thank you.
By the end of May, Al-Mahmoudi knew the game was up. “I wish you had followed my advice from the beginning. Now every day a new country recognises the NTC,” an unknown caller told him on May 31.
“They’ve become a state now,” Al-Mahmoudi replied. “It’s over.”