After 42 years of absolute power in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi spent his last days hovering between defiance, anger and delusion, surviving on rice and pasta his guards scrounged from the emptied civilian houses he moved between every few days, according to an aide captured with him.
Libyan revolutionary fighters returning from Sirte are welcomed at Al Guwarsha gate in Benghazi, Libya, Saturday Oct. 22, 2011. Libya's new leaders will declare liberation on Sunday, officials said, a move that will start the clock for elections after months of bloodshed that culminated in the death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
MISRATA, LIBYA - After 42 years of absolute power in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi spent his last days hovering between defiance, anger and delusion, surviving on rice and pasta his guards scrounged from the emptied civilian houses he moved between every few days, according to an aide captured with him.
Under siege by the former rebels for weeks, Gadhafi grew impatient with life on the run in the city of Sirte, said the aide, Mansour Dhao Ibrahim, the leader of the country's People Guard, a network of loyalist volunteers and informants. "He would say: 'Why is there no electricity? Why is there no water?'"
Dhao, who stayed close to Gadhafi throughout the siege, said that he and other aides repeatedly counseled him to leave power or the country, but that Gadhafi and one of his sons, Muatassim, would not even consider the option.
Still, though some of Gadhafi's supporters portrayed him as bellicose to the end, armed at the front lines, he actually did not take part in the fighting, Dhao said, instead preferring to read or make calls on his satellite phone. "I'm sure not a single shot was fired," he said.
As Libya's interim leaders prepared Saturday to formally start the transition to an elected government and set a timeline for national elections in 2012, sweeping away Gadhafi's dictatorship, they faced the certainty that even in death he had hurt them. The battle for Sirte, Gadhafi's birthplace, was prolonged for months by the presence of the elite cadre he kept with him, delaying the end of a war most Libyans had hoped would be over with the fall of Tripoli in August.
Dhao's comments, in an interview on Saturday at the military intelligence headquarters in Misrata, came as the final details of Gadhafi's death, at the hands of the fighters who had captured him, were still being debated.
Residents of Misrata spent a third day viewing the bodies of Gadhafi and his son Muatassim at a freezer in a shopping mall. Interim government officials said they will conduct autopsies and investigate allegations that the two men may have been killed while in custody.
Dhao, who knew Gadhafi for decades and became a member of his inner circle, spoke in a conference room that served as his cell, wearing a blue shirt, maybe an electric company uniform, inscribed with the word "power."
His account of the battle did not address the accusations made by the former rebels of abuses by loyalist soldiers inside Sirte. Ismael al-Shukri, the deputy chief of military intelligence in Misrata, said loyalists troops had used families as human shields and had executed soldiers who refused to fight.
Gadhafi fled to Sirte on the day Tripoli fell, in a small convoy. "He was very afraid of NATO," said Dhao, who joined him about a week later. The decision to stay in the city had been Muatassim's, who reasoned that the city, long known as an important pro-Gadhafi stronghold and under frequent bombardment by NATO airstrikes, was the last place anyone would look.
Gadhafi traveled with about 10 people, including close aides and guards. Muatassim, who commanded the loyalist forces, traveled separately from his father, fearing that his satellite phone was being tracked.
Apart from the phone, which Gadhafi used to make frequent statements to a Syrian television station that became his official outlet, he was largely "cut off from the world," Dhao said. He did not have a computer, and in any case, there was rarely any electricity. Gadhafi, who was fond of framing the revolution as a religious war between devout Muslims and the rebel's Western backers, spent his time reading the Qur'an, Dhao said.
He refused to hear pleas to give up power. He would say, according to Dhao: "This is my country. I handed over power in 1977," referring to his assertion that power was actually in the hands of the Libyan people. "We tried for a time, and then the door was shut," the aide said, saying that Gadhafi seemed more open to the idea of giving up power than his sons did.
For weeks, the former rebels fired heavy weapons indiscriminately at the city. "Random shelling was everywhere," said Dhao, adding that a rocket or a mortar shell hit one of the houses where Gadhafi was staying, injuring some of his guards. A chef who was traveling with the group was also hurt, so everyone started cooking, Dhao said.
About two weeks ago, as the former rebels stormed the city center, Gadhafi and his sons were trapped in two houses. Gadhafi decided it was time to leave and planned to flee to one of his houses nearby, where he had been born. On Thursday, a convoy of 80 cars was supposed to leave about 3 a.m., but disorganization by the loyalist volunteers delayed the departure, until 8 a.m. In broad daylight, the NATO warplanes and former rebels found them half an hour after they left.
Dhao said he was hit by shrapnel, and woke up in the hospital. "I'm sorry for all that happened to Libya," he said, "from the beginning to the end."