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Libyan Rebels Overrun Gadhafi Residence

Rebel forces have captured the Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, Moammar Gadhafi’s official residence and government offices. This was the scene of the most intense fighting since rebels entered the capital on Sunday. Tanks were at one point installed outside the compound. It’s a pretty important moment. While too many analysts were drawing lessons from the Libyan intervention as if it were over, we saw a backlash from forces loyal to the regime overnight. So it was unclear how decisive the rebel victory was for a time. Capturing Gadhafi’s compound is a major step forward in ending the hostilities.

However, it’s still not clear if Gadhafi himself is inside the compound, or elsewhere. There is apparently a network of tunnels and underground bunkers, where members of the regime and their families could be stashed. On a cursory search, rebels did not find Gadhafi or family members in the compound or the tunnel network.

And the rebels may not be the best captors of the Gadhafi family. It turns out that they did capture Seif al-Islam el-Gadhafi at one point, as they claimed, but they let them escape.

Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who with other diplomats has continued to work at the Libyan mission since disavowing Gadhafi in February, said Tuesday the Libyan leader’s sons, including heir apparent Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, had been in rebel custody but their captors evidently were not watching them carefully.

“This is a popular revolution,” said the former envoy, who has remained in close contact with the rebels since his defection. The rebels “don’t have any training in the field of security,” he added.

One rumor is that they merely put Seif al-Islam under house arrest.

That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the rebel leadership. But perhaps they have learned from the experience. And Juan Cole believes that Seif himself did not do any favors with his subsequent actions.

Saif did an impromptu interview with Matthew Chance of CNN and another later with Aljazeera. In the Aljazeera one he announced victory over what he characterized as the thugs brought in by sea by NATO transport planes. Then he said f**k the International Criminal Court and walked off into the night. Saif al-Islam Qaddafi was said to be the real ruler of Libya in recent years, but is also said to be flaky and unable to make decisions or keep promises. From what we saw on screen, he suffers from something of the same mental problems as his father– paranoia, denial of reality, aggressiveness. Falling Dictator Syndrome.

If you had been the ruler of Libya and been given the great boon of an escape, if you were wise you would go underground and keep your enemy guessing. Coming on television is suicide by narcissism. It relieves me that the Qaddafis are somewhat unlikely to be capable of fighting any sort of rear guard battle. Out of power, their daffiness should become apparent to everyone.

You don’t have to be sane to hurt someone, of course.

Related: the Libyan rebels have a mini-drone.

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David Dayen

David Dayen