Officials in Tripoli complain of 'great injustice' against Libyan regime after rapprochement under Tony Blair
The apparent death of Muammar Gaddafi'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 UK, 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-siècle mood within the regime. "I face losing everything I have worked for," said a diplomat who has clocked up more than 30 years in Gaddafi's service. However the current crisis was resolved, he said, the Libya he had known all his adult life was at an end. 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. "Gaddafi gave all the information we had about al-Qaida. We gave them the file about the IRA." Libya had eventually co-operated over the Lockerbie investigation and had 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 UK 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 Gaddafi, to change the regime. "It's all to please public opinion. One day you're good, and the next you are bad, bad, bad." David Cameron, he said, had not attempted to build a relationship with Gaddafi since becoming prime minister. Another diplomat said: "Relations with the Cameron government were not good." 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 – including Gaddafi's stronghold of Tripoli – erupted in protests. Gaddafi's security forces moved swiftly to put down the rebellions, shooting dead unrecorded numbers and arresting thousands, who are still believed to be languishing in the regime's brutal detention centres. Officials described the west's horrified response and subsequent action as "interference in internal affairs". The officials pointed to "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." Dalton described the UK's rapprochement with Libya as "functional". "We wanted a partnership with Libya but there was only so much at any one time that we'd accept. "You are always aware with a country like Libya that you are skating on thin ice." Asked if the UK under Tony Blair became too close to the regime, Dalton said: "You can always fail to predict the future. History shows that we did get too close, but that history wasn't laid out on a plate in advance." There were, he added, "significant voices in the British establishment saying, 'Don't do it'." Officials within the regime claim that Gaddafi is ready to implement serious political reform as part of a negotiated resolution to the civil war. They insist that he must not be forced out in any deal – but there is an underlying reluctant recognition that epochal change is inevitable. "If the leader has to go, it has to be done shway shway [slowly slowly]," said one.