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Colonel Moammar Gaddafi poses after an interview with TRT Turkish television in Tripoli on March 8, 2011.STR

Fight to the end for Moammar Gadhafi? Or defect and save your skin?

The second question may not occur to most in Mr. Gadhafi's inner circle, committed to Libya's longtime leader by blood ties, ideology, business interest or complicity in repression, analysts say.

Senior security officials, many of them relatives, are more likely to close ranks now that an allied assault has begun, believing they can hold on to at least parts of Libya.

But other insiders who helped forge detente with the West in recent years may be weighing their options, especially those with children and second homes in Europe and the United States.

Whether those options would include mounting a coup, or attempting to persuade Mr. Gadhafi to step aside, is hard to assess given the lack of reliable information about the activities of senior members of Mr. Gadhafi's entourage.

Diplomats say that in normal times Libya's leadership is a fractious community of officials and relatives whose business and ideological rivalries were apparently encouraged by Mr. Gadhafi, a skilful, instinctive practitioner of divide-and-rule.

Many of these rifts appear to have been put aside in the common interest of survival since the start of a popular uprising in mid-February, political analysts say.


But experts do not rule out the possibility that the string of defections Mr. Gadhafi has suffered in his army and diplomatic corps in the weeks since a popular uprising began may encourage others higher up in the hierarchy to follow suit.

"Some officials worked so hard to get Libya back into the international mainstream, and now it's back to square one," said Noman Benotman, who led a guerrilla uprising against Mr. Gadhafi in the 1990s and now works for the British think-tank Quilliam.

"Instead of enjoying their retirement, they are having to run for their lives. They will do everything possible to get rid of [Mr. Gadhafi]" he said.

Mr. Benotman said he believed some officials close to Mr. Gadhafi, including Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, had begun openly to express doubts about the leadership's handling of the revolt. There was no independent confirmation of such dissent by Mr. Koussa.

Diplomats tracking the Libyan crisis say the loyalty of some insiders may depend on the international coalition's actions.

For example if a credible offer of immunity from prosecution is made to senior officials and members of his Gaddadfa clan, in return for their defection, some may turn against him.


Events on the battlefield may increase the prospects of a coup attempt, since Mr. Gadhafi's prospects of achieving even a stalemate look grim, said Faysal Itani, of the London-based Exclusive Analysis consultancy.

"His ability to sustain that stalemate is now much more limited, increasing the likelihood that he will be removed by an internal coup involving his inner circle and/or his tribal support base, and that a deal is then done with the rebels.

"We think it highly unlikely that a negotiated settlement can be reached so long as Gadhafi is not removed from power," Mr. Itani said. "However... we think this will probably happen, opening the way for dialogue."

Some insiders accused by human rights groups of being implicated in killings of Libyans over many years will feel they have no option but to fight because their lives are on the line. U.S.-based Libyan political scientist Mansour El-Kikhia said he believed some insiders would flee if they had the chance.

But Mr. Gadhafi's consistent strategy over four decades had been to delegate acts of repression to close associates in order to implicate them, he said.

"They live or die with him. And if they disown him, no one would believe that they had a sincere change of heart. They are too bloodstained," he said. But officials who defected in the early stages of the revolt were in a "much stronger position".

Saad Djebbar, a London-based expert who acted as an intermediary in talks with Libya over the Lockerbie aircraft bombing, said he suspected loyalties in the leadership were under new strain since the start of the allied air campaign.


An "outer circle" of the top leadership comprising ministers and political activists, including longtime colleagues who participated in the 1969 coup that brought Mr. Gadhafi to power, may not be as loyal as direct family members, Mr. Djebbar suggested.

"Most of Gadhafi's entourage have realized that the family is operating on a different planet," he said.

Many of these senior officials were at Mr. Gadhafi's main family compound in Tripoli, in effect under collective house arrest, Mr. Djebbar said, adding that he suspected there was a real degree of disaffection.

"He's keeping most of them very close to him to keep an eye on them."

Key members of the family believed to be involved in defending Mr. Gadhafi against the uprising include Saif al-Islam, a onetime liberal reformist, Muatassim, national security adviser, Khamis, a senior military leader, and Saadi, a businesman.

Other important players include:

- Abdulkader Youssef Dibri, head of Gadhafi's personal security

- Bashir Saleh, chief of staff

- Ahmed Ibrahim, a cousin of Gaddafi, senior member of revolutionary comittees

- Bouzaid Dordah, Director, External Security Organisation

- Mohammed Gaddaf al-Dam, a cousin of Mr. Gadhafi. In the 1980s, was involved in a campaign of assassination of dissidents in Europe, according to the United Nations

- Abdullah Sanussi, Gaddafi's brother-in-law and senior security official

- Services, Housing and Utilities Minister Maatoug Mohammed Maatoug. Has a history of involvement in suppression of dissent

- Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, Libya's prime minister

- General Abu Bakr Younus Jaber, Defence Minister

- Moussa Koussa, foreign minister and former director, External Security Organisation.