No-fly zone over Libya needs world's support to work

The risk of doing nothing in Libya now exceeds the risk of intervention.

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Col Muammar Qaddafi's air strikes against his own people have forced the hand of the international community. At the start of the conflict weeks ago, we argued that a no-fly zone over Libya could become a necessity. Now, it seems it has.

GCC foreign ministers issued a strong statement in favour of the no-fly zone yesterday; Libyan rebels have already called for foreign intervention. At the same time, the United States has shown that it is willing to consider military options.

This step cannot be taken lightly. Establishing air superiority could involve strikes against air defence targets on the ground, risking civilian casualties and further entanglement. But the risk of doing nothing now exceeds the risk of intervention.

This is the most forceful foreign policy decision taken by the GCC on a major international conflict, at least since 1991. Member countries are gravely concerned about events in Libya and united in their response. Unity among Arab countries and their allies is essential to any action.

The GCC is the first international bloc of countries to demand a no-fly zone. This sets an example for other Arab nations, Tunisia and Egypt included, as well as international powers. Multilateral support is required for military intervention to be a politically viable option.

There is a tragic example of delaying decisive action in similar circumstances. The ceasefire that ended the First Gulf War 20 years ago this month prohibited the Iraqi government from flying fixed-wing aircraft, but not helicopter gunships. Both Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south were left unprotected. Operation Provide Comfort was eventually implemented, but its delayed ratification meant that over one million Kurds were displaced and thousands lost their lives.

The US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq is a fresh and painful memory for many around the region that cautions against intervention, but the international coalition and multilateral effort in 1991 to protect civilians from Saddam Hussein's armies provides a better parallel in the case of Libya. Citizens on the Arab street who have shown solidarity with recent protests are also more likely to back a mission on behalf of Libyan civilians.

"We call on the international community and in particular the Security Council to stand up to its historical responsibilities to protect this dear people," Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs, said at the GCC meeting on Monday.

The conflict in Libya is now undoubtedly a civil war. Defenceless civilians are suffering and atrocities, including executions, by Col Qaddafi's forces need to be a stopped. Emiratis, Arabs and the rest of the world all agree on this.