Officials in Tripoli complain of ‘great injustice' against Libyan regime.

The apparent death of Muammar Qadhafi's youngest son and three of his grandchildren in a Nato air strike will reinforce and magnify the powerful sense of victimhood that is gripping the inner circle in Tripoli.

Feelings of betrayal and incomprehension at the West's rejection of the Libyan regime, particularly directed at the U.K., are compounded by aggression, belligerence and merciless military assaults. It is a potent mix.

Dismissing the violent suppression of protests in Libya as the normal reaction of any government and the military campaign as self-defence, regime officials believe they are victims of a “great injustice” perpetrated against them by the international coalition — led, they say, by Britain and France.

A series of private conversations with figures considered to be among the more open and reform-minded within the government highlights a fin-de-siecle mood within the regime. “I face losing everything I have worked for,” said a diplomat who has clocked up more than 30 years in Mr. Qadhafi's service.

Britain was frequently singled out as a source of aggrievement. “We gave them everything,” said one official. “We gave up our WMD [weapons of mass destruction] voluntarily. We were the best country participating in the fight against terrorism. Qadhafi gave all the information we had about al-Qaeda. We gave them the file about the IRA.” Libya had co-operated over the Lockerbie investigation and offered British oil firms access to Libya's greatest natural asset.

“I honestly don't know what happened. I have thought about it for two months. We feel betrayed.” A second diplomat said: “The U.K. was a country that was friends with Libya. It had diplomatic relations, cultural relations, investments. Why have they taken sides?” In answer to his own question, he went on: “They decided from day one. It was a plot, 10 times a plot, a conspiracy to remove Qadhafi, to change the regime.” David Cameron, he said, had not attempted to build a relationship with Mr. Qadhafi since becoming Prime Minister.

The officials accused Britain of judging the Libyan regime too harshly over its response to the uprising. “I'm not defending what happened,” said one. “There was bad management — but it doesn't warrant war.

“OK, so there were some demonstrations and some policemen got upset — so what is the role of ambassadors? What is the point of building up good relations? Ambassadors exist to cool things down.” The “bad management” referred to the days following the start of unrest when cities and towns across the country erupted in protests.

Officials described the West's horrified response and subsequent action as “interference in internal affairs.” They pointed to the “double standards” in the West's response. “What's the difference between the Libyan rebels and the IRA?” asked one. “The IRA were armed rebels who wanted their independence. The British — the legitimate government — fought them, and anyone who gave [the IRA] support was considered an enemy. Now the British are doing the same with the Libyan rebels.” Another said: “If the British talk to the self-appointed [opposition] council, why not talk to Hamas? Or the Taliban?” Why hadn't the West imposed a no-fly zone on Israel over Gaza, or intervened militarily over pro-democracy protests in Bahrain?

Libyan arguments about unwarranted interference and betrayal were robustly rejected by Sir Richard Dalton, the British ambassador to Tripoli from 1999 to 2002. “The argument that the West abandoned them is grossly superficial,” he told the Guardian.

“What the hell do they expect when they behave the way they did after 17 February? They shouldn't be remotely surprised that their friendships throughout the world deserted them.” Sir Dalton described the U.K.'s rapprochement with Libya as “functional.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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