Five Men Arrested in Connection to Libyan Rape Allegations; Clinton Says ‘We’ve Prevented a Humanitarian Disaster’

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Iman al-Obeidi. Photo: Wiki

• Five men have allegedly been arrested in connection to Libyan woman Iman al-Obeidi's rape and torture accusations against fifteen men in Qaddafi's forces. After Obeidi stormed the hotel housing the foreign press to report her story yesterday, Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khalid Kaim, said a criminal investigation into the allegations has begun and five men have been detained. In reference to Saturday's dramatic scene at the hotel restaurant, where Obeidi was physically blocked from telling her story, manhandled by Qaddafi security forces, and dragged into a car, Kaim acknowledged that security staff "mishandled" the incident. Although yesterday a Libyan spokesperson said Obeidi seemed to be drunk and possibly "mentally ill," a government rep now insists that Obeidi's claims are being taken seriously by the Qaddafi regime, and that Obeidi will be given access to a lawyer. However, Obeidi is still reportedly being held by government officials. [NYP, NYDN]

• NATO will assume command of all aerial operations — including ground attacks — in Libya, from the U.S.-led force that has been conducting air strikes against Qaddafi's forces. International ambassadors on Sunday approved a plan to expand the previously agreed mission to enforce the U.N. arms embargo and no-fly zone by agreeing to protect civilians from attack by Qaddafi's ground forces. According to the Times, "The decision [to have NATO assume command] effectively relieved the United States of leading the fight, and ended a week of squabbling among the allies over the issue." [AP via NYP, NYT]

• Overall, the United States will lessen its military role in Libya over the next few weeks and start to focus with other nations on "how to ease Qaddafi from power," according to Reuters. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told NBC's Meet the Press today that the United Nations would be sending a special envoy to Tripoli in the next few days with "a very clear message" to Qaddafi. "We have a lot of evidence that people around him are reaching out to the international community," Clinton said. She added that the U.S. message to those around Qaddafi is: "Now is your time to get out of this and to help change the direction." [Reuters]

• On NBC this morning, Clinton also said she sees the mission in Libya as successful thus far. "[Qaddafi] was clearly on his way to Benghazi,” she said. “He was intending by his own words to show no mercy. I think we’ve prevented a great humanitarian disaster, which is always hard to point to something that didn’t happen. But I believe we did. And now, we’re beginning to see, because of the good work of the coalition, to see his troops begin to turn back toward the west. And to see the opposition begin to reclaim ground they had lost. The international community moved with great speed in part because there’s a history here. This is someone who’s behaved in a way that’s caused great concern in the past 40 plus years in the Arab world, the African world, Europe and the United States.” [Politico]

• On the ground, Libyan rebels pushed westward and took operational control of two key Libyan cities, Ras Lanuf and Brega, over the weekend. Rebel forces told CNN that Qaddafi's forces pulled back from Ras Lanuf. The town appeared to have avoided major destruction. In the key oil town of Brega, opposition fighters encountered little resistance. [CNN, NYT, Reuters]

• The city of Misurata, between the rebels' current position and Tripoli, remained under siege by government forces for the eleventh consecutive day today. The city remained under shelling and pro-Qaddafi snipers remained on rooftops. According to a CNN source, 116 civilians have been killed in the city. [CNN]