Tough fight ahead in Libya's Stalingrad
As Col Muammar Gaddafi faces revolt from the east, Sirte stands as his Stalingrad. He has designated the grandiose city on the Mediterranean as the political capital of Africa. But its Soviet-style architecture is now its most important attribute.
As the front line in a civil war, it offers a formidable fortress. Its wide avenues and concrete towers allow easy movement and ample shelter against coalition air forces.
Rebels in pickup trucks will be vulnerable to dug-in fire power. If they storm the streets, they will confront a fervently pro-Gaddafi population.
Sirte is a stronghold of the leader's own Gaddadfa tribe. Apartment blocks are modern and spacious and the shops well stocked. By contrast, Gaddafi has starved the cities of Benghazi and Tobruk of resources.
Even the rebels acknowledge the difficulty of taking Sirte. The town where the Libyan leader grew up has been transformed under his 41-year rule. Parliamentary assembly halls, marble-clad hotels and villas turned it into Gaddafi's showpiece. Hundreds of foreign leaders have been entertained there.
Now, even if the boom is over, the town may not revert to obscurity. Its would-be conquers would do well to consult history. In Roman times the port was at the edge of the province of Tripolitania, which stood in uneasy rivalry to Cyrenaica.
Until Sirte falls, the boundary of those ancient provinces is set to divide the warring states of Libya. (© Daily Telegraph, London)