The Awful Libyan Mess – Part 1

  • East and west government centers (Tobruk and Tripoli)

In preparation for the posting on the isolation of  Qatar,  I found one news item particularly bizarre- the “eastern government”  of Libya  based in Tobruk,  had gone along with Saudi Arabia, and cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar.    There is no eastern Libya, but the eastern part of Libya is being administered by a government in Tobruk.   Normally, there is  only one internationally recognized head of state and legislative body.    Why would a small break away capital, like Tobruk even want to get involved in the isolation of Qatar led by the Saudis?   I think I have the answer.

 

A general view of the Dar al Salam, a five-star hotel being used by members of the House of Representatives, in Tobruk September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Nothing is normal in Libya.  At least, in the last 3 years, what happens doesn’t seem normal or  logical to outsiders.  The civil war was fought, presumably, to allow for the Libyans to form a democratically elected government.     Since June 2014, two Libyan capitals exist – the east side  (Tobruk)  and west side (Tripoli) governments.  Many consider there are now three governmental authorities, two in Tripoli, (GNC and GNA) and one in Tobruk.   This is not counting many militant groups, including ISIS which control parts of Libya.

The UN through its special envoy to unite the country.  Some countries recognize Tobruk as the legitimate government of Libya, while others recognize Tripoli.  A link is provided below from Wikipedia providing a very good summary of the breakup of Libya and the recognition of various countries.    There has been no formal division of the country.  As one can see from the map below, Tobruk borders Egypt.  On the  western side, Tunisia is on the border, with Algeria further to the south.

 

 

  • Unrest and infighting leading to civil war (Nov/2011 to 2014)

There was a tremendous celebration of the new freedoms which came at the end of the Libyan Civil War.  The first Civil War lasted 9 months, and ended in October 2011 with the death of Gaddafi.  However, it was far easier to make war against the Gaddafi regime, than to create a new government among the various rivals.   This is a period of failed opportunity to create a unified government, and a return to open civil war in Libya.  It is a pattern often seen when an all controlling tyrannical regime is forced out of office.

Pro-Gaddafi support contributed to the unrest in parts of Libya.  In reaction, Libya government enacted harsh measures against pro-Gaddafi loyalists.  Per Wikipedia:

Gaddafi loyalism after the Libyan Civil War refers to sympathetic sentiment towards the overthrown government of Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed in October 2011. It has been responsible for some of the ongoing postwar violence in Libya, though the degree of its involvement has been disputed in a number of instances. Sympathy for Gaddafi and his fallen government is viewed highly negatively by current Libyan authorities—both the legal government and extralegal militias—and parts of general society in postwar Libya, and even accusations of it can provoke harsh responses. In May 2012, the democratically elected postwar government passed legislation imposing severe penalties for anyone giving favourable publicity to Gaddafi, his family, their regime or ideas, as well as anything denigrating the new government and its institutions or otherwise judged to be damaging to public morale. Derisively called tahloob (“algae”) by anti-Gaddafi Libyans,  suspected loyalists have faced strong persecution following the war. Perhaps 7,000 loyalist soldiers, as well as civilians accused of support for Gaddafi are being held in government prisons. Amnesty International has reported large scale torture and other mistreatment and executions, of those perceived as enemies of the new government.

Reports and rumours of organised pro-Gaddafi activity have persisted since the war’s end. The Libyan Popular National Movement was organised in exile on 15 February 2012 (the first anniversary of the protests that led to the civil war) by former officials in the Gaddafi government. The party, banned from participating in Libyan elections, may have also cultivated links with armed pro-Gaddafi groups in Libya. Statements from the party sometimes appear on websites affiliated with the so-called “Green Resistance” (after the sole colour of Gaddafi’s flag), a term sometimes used by sympathisers to refer to supposed pro-Gaddafi militant groups.

The anticipated  steps to transition to a democratic government are discussed in Wikipedia:

  On July 7, 2012, the National Transitional Council, in power since the Libyan Civil War, supervised democratic elections for a 200-member General National Congress to replace the Council.[1] The assembly was to choose a prime minister and organize parliamentary elections in 2013.  A process to write a constitution was also to be determined. Unrest driven by armed militias, ethnic minority and radical groups undermined the process and the government for the years following the overthrowing of Muammar Gaddafi. While internal apathy towards democratic reforms slowed the process, external bodies such as the European Union were still pressing for the establishment of a national dialogue to build consensus for the drafting of a new constitution to take place before the end of 2014. Parliamentary elections were scheduled to be held on June 25, 2014 in a move aimed at stabilizing the country and quelling the unrest.

The transition to a unified government based in Tripoli, certainly looked like it was succeeding in 2012-2013.   However,  outside players were quickly gaining a foothold in the new Tripoli government:

The current crisis [as of Oct 2014] was triggered when Islamists lost the elections in June, and militias from Misrata and other towns moved in to besiege the capital. The old parliament says it refuses to recognise the new one because there’s been no formal hand-over ceremony. But with Tripoli and Benghazi controlled by the militias, a hand-over’s hardly possible.Some militias fight largely for the interests of their own town or region. But some are allied to Islamist political groups including the Muslim Brotherhood. “Everybody sang the values of the revolution, but no-one ever sat down and discussed what these values were, and I think this is where we lost a trick,” the new MP Salah Sohbi says. “Some countries backed the Muslim Brotherhood because they thought these guys are OK, they’re Islamists but they are moderate Islamists who have shown a clear distance from the Jihadists. And that is where the mistake happened.”

Per Wikipedia:

The second Libyan Civil War is an ongoing conflict among rival groups seeking control of the territory of Libya. The conflict has been mostly between the government of the House of Representatives (HoR) that was elected democratically in 2014, also known as the “Tobruk government” and internationally recognized as the “Libyan government”; and the rival General National Congress (GNC) endorsed government, also called the “National Salvation Government”, based in the capital Tripoli established after Operation Libya Dawn.

This short blog will not attempt to identify all the rival groups  seeking to control Libya.   It is a case of every group financial backing, and control of the oil shipment ports.    The Petroleum Facility Guard has become a private army, according to the National Oil Company, based in Tripoli:

The PFG has become a “private army” for its head, Ibrahim Jadran, according to Mustafa Sanalla, chairman of NOC, which is based in Tripoli. “They have tried to sell oil themselves and then they failed to protect the places they were meant to,” he told The Independent. “We estimate that the activities of the PFG has adversely affected 70 per cent of oil production,” he said. “We are an autonomous body serving Libya rather than either of the governments. The PFG are also meant to be like that, but their only loyalty is to making money.”

The PFG has been blamed for the establishment of ISIL, or at least the damage done to oil storage facilities in Misrata.    Now ISIL has occupied parts of Libya, and is a threat to both Tobrok and Tripoli governments.

A listing of the various rival groups now occupying Libya is provided in the Links section below.

Links:

Wikipedia:  Libyan Civil War

Wikipedia: Libya

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

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The Awful Libya Mess, Recent Events – Part 3

Control of Libya requires securing its export ports, as shown below:

 

Production prior to 2011 was 1,650,000  barrels of oil per day.   In 2016, it was 500,000 barrels per day. There is an enormous wealth created by the export of oil.     With 46 billion barrels of oil, these assets will create income for decades to come.

In late 2016, it looked like the beginnings of a re-unified Libya could become a reality, under the UN Peace Accords.  In concept the accords were to create a new government, the GNA government, based on the Tobruk and Tripoli based governments.    However, this could only become a reality if the Tobruk government,  principally Khalfa Haftar, believed he could not conquer the rest of Libya, and was content with sharing power with the GNA  government in Tripoli.   So, peace depends on Haftar diminished capacity to extend his reach to the west, making peace the best option.

Saudi Arabia swung open its doors to Donald Trump knowing exactly what would appeal to him- deals for more goods and services.  His ego and naivete were on full display, as he took credit for the blockade of Qatar as an extension of this anti-terrorist policies  in his tweets.  It is now spilling over to the Libyan conflict.  The Chairman of the Libyan National Oil Company, in an OpEd article in the New York Times, wrote:

The latest incident was triggered by the recent, sudden souring of relations between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain on the other. One of the several groups that purport to be Libya’s rightful government is using that dispute as a pretext to seize control of the country’s oil and gas exports: It has accused the National Oil Corporation, the internationally recognized body responsible for managing these resources, of working in the service of Qatar by diverting oil revenues to it via an N.O.C. customer.  I am the N.O.C.’s chairman, and these allegations are false. But they shine a bright light on Libya’s current tragedy. Since the revolution of 2011, the country’s oil and gas resources have been held hostage to both its fractious politics and power struggles in the Middle East.

It is not explicitly stated, but this is a reference to the Tobruk based government.     The Chairman goes on to suggest Libya’s National Oil Company be given more authority to protect it from being involved in the political infighting.

The Tobruk government did not have complete control of Benghazi.  The UAE, in violation of the UN Peace Accords, has supplied Haftar with military equipment to defeat Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB).   One can see why the UAE would want to shut down Al Jazeera, as they seem to be the only ones with correspondents on the ground to observe the fighting in Benghazi.  According to the article (see links below):

The UN’s Libya Sanctions Committee report, released on Friday [23-Jun-17} , reveals the UAE has supplied attack helicopters and other military aircraft to Haftar’s forces. “The United Arab Emirates have been providing both material support and direct support to LNA, which have significantly increased the air support available to LNA,” said the report by a UN panel of experts.  The report provides rare insight into foreign funding of armed groups in Libya, which many say has exacerbated the conflict.

The US and the EU countries have pledged support to eventual re-unification through the UN efforts.  The selection of an impartial and highly experienced UN Special Envoy to Libya, is typically done through discussions among representatives of the Security Council, and then announced by the Secretary General, after everyone is in agreement.   Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, rejected the selection of special envoy based on nationality, as she stated on February 11, 2017:

“For too long the U.N. has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel,” Haley said.

It was a very strange and antagonistic statement.   But, Trump was scheduled to meet with Israel PM Netanyahu at the White House on the following day.    The Secretary-General quickly responded, stating they were interested in the best negotiator for the conflict, irrespective of their country, and neither the Israels nor the Palestinians had any participation in the talks.  Fortunately, another very qualified  special envoy has been selected.   It seemed like Washington politics had meddled in what should have been a routine appointment.  That’s just my opinion.

If the conflict in Libya is seen, not just as the Tobruk-based east government, verses GNA/GNC west side government, but as a larger conflict of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and others verses Qatar, Iran, Turkey and Russia,  where does this leave the US and our allies?

— Human Suffering

The administrative breakdown in Libya has created enormous human suffering.    During Gaddafi’s era,   immigrants received work visas as applied by their sponsors, with set wages  and approved by the government.  This system has broken down, and employers are now taking advantage of workers, charging them for expenses, equal to their wages.

Also, migrants are being lured across the Libyan sounthern boundary  with the false promise of being able to migrate to Europe, only to be sold as slaves or ransomed.   See  BBC link.

— The Path Forward

The only path forward is re-unification through UN Negotiations.   On the Tobruk side, Chief of the Army, Haftar must not be allowed to purchase arms and escalate the war.    The conflict in Libya will only become worse if the US turns a blind eye towards the arming of the Tobruk government by the Saudi supporters.  Washington and the EU need to work jointly on the  the massive refugee problem.

This is a rapidly developing story.   To follow it, it is best to do a Google search on the news.   The latest story to appear, is the release of Saif al-Islam Gadaffi and   some discussion that he could play a some leadership role.  I have very serious doubts.   The areas under control by the various rival groups seems to change regularly.  The New York Times, The Guardian and Al Jazeera seem to be the best sources of information.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

June 24, 2017: Haftar’s forces make gains in Libya’s Benghazi

New York Times: How to Save Libya From Itself? Protect Its Oil From Its Politics, Mustafa Sanalla, Chairman of the Libyan National Oil Company

BBC- I thought I was going to die

TheHill.com Nikki  Haley Rips UN for Picking a Palestinian as Envoy