Libya: an inside look at Misrata, the city that won the war

'Lybian Stalingrad' wants to move forward. An ANSA reportage

21 December, 19:25

    The war wounds of Misrata The war wounds of Misrata

    (by Stefano Polli) (ANSAmed) - MISRATA, DECEMBER 21 - Misrata's wounds will heal eventually, but right now they're still visible to the naked eye. They are visible in the wrecked, gutted, violated buildings along Tripoli Street, the long avenue bisecting the city where the last, decisive battle for the liberation of the so-called Libyan Stalingrad took place, in May 2011.

    They are visible in the eyes of its residents when they talk about the new road Misrata has taken, one that looks forward to life and to the future: the gleam of hope mingles quickly with expressions of sadness and rage when talk turns to the past, to the two long months of siege and blood, in which the bombs of the infamous Khamis Brigade, led by one of Gaddafi's sons, dictated the times of life and death.

    ''Welcome to Misrata'' it says in fresh paint on the bridge just before the dusty highway junction taking travelers towards the ''martyred city,'' which lies 190 kms from Tripoli. There are also hundreds of flags from the new Libya - three stripes in red, black and green, with a crescent moon and a star, representing the post and the pre-Gaddafi Libya - and, littering the roadside, the carcasses of about 50 tanks: these were Gaddafi's, and were wiped out by NATO air strikes carried out mostly by French Mirage warplanes.

    At the entrance to the city, where a checkpoint is held by callow youths sporting Kalashnikovs, the old and the new appear to superimpose. A Japanese car dealership displays its brand-new wares in white, uniform rows, followed by ruined buildings interspersed with newly-built ones, construction workers fixing a facade, two pick-ups with machine guns at a couple of street corners, three home appliance stores spreading their wares on the sidewalk, kids running happily in a playground.

    Halfway down Tripoli Street, facing the remains of two blackened, bombed-out buildings, is the Museum of the Revolution. It documents the battle of Misrata, which lasted from February 17-May 15, 2011, and which analysts said was the battle that won the war against Gaddafi. Here are the anti-personnel mines that killed dozens, the Libyan army rifles and weapons, and, most importantly, the exhibit of 1,400 photos of ''martyrs'' of the anti-Gaddafi revolution. While the exact death toll is not known, at least 1,700 insurgents are estimated to have lost their lives in what was the longest and bloodiest battle of the Libyan civil war.

    The museum gives visitors an unsparing look at the realities of the conflict. There are pictures of the dead, with their horrifying wounds and indescribable mutilations. There is a picture of a boy with bandaged eyes, blinded in the conflict, pushing a legless soldier in a wheelchair.

    ''One is useful to the other, and vice versa. They are fated to go on together,'' comments one of the museum guides, who is an ex-combatant. Misrata is a city that wants to move forward, but without forgetting the past. It is also having a hard time trusting: security is a big issue here, the pick-ups with machine guns are on constant patrol, and people will need more time before they can truly feel and digest the fact that normality has been restored.

    The situation here is nowhere near that of Cyrenaica, the eastern coastal region of Libya, where Salafist and other extremist Islamic groups with more than one link to al-Qaeda are taking advantage of a flawed security system to act with impunity: the prime example being the September 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and other staff members were killed.

    Cyrenaica and its turmoils seem far away. That is where the uprising against Gaddafi began, but it was won here in the Libyan Stalingrad, which is just now coming back to life.


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