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Short Stories by John Oakes

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LIBYA ON THE BRINK OF CIVIL WAR?

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20th May 2014
The Forces of Major General Khalifa Hafter appear to be gathering for an armed confrontation with Islamist militias in Benghazi, Libya’s second city and sometime capital of the old province of Cyrenaica. In the mean time the price of Brent crude has shot up at the likelihood of a civil war in Libya and the US has moved six hundred marines from Spain to a forward base in Sicily in order to protect and evacuate US diplomats and other citizens from Tripoli where Islamist militias range freely. They are threatened mainly by powerful forces from Zintan, a city on the edge of the Jebel Nefusa. The Libyan General National Congress, by now probably without legitimate mandate, has been attacked by Zintani militias and has been stood down. The ‘legitimate’ but so far ineffective, Libyan army, seems to be divided and has not shown its hand. The Libyan Air Force units in Tobruk and, I believe, Benina have declared their support for Hafter.
Hafter’s forces, now named the Libyan National Army, are based to the east of Benghazi and were said to number 6,000 on the 17th May, though the Special Service (Lightning) Brigade stationed within the city is reported today to have sided with Hafter who also has tribal support, though the extent of this is unknown to date. It is probable that Hafter has been joined by Ibrahim Jadhran’s Cyrenaica Defence Force which hails from Marsa Brega and controls the main oil terminals on the southern shores of the Gulf of Sirte. The Islamist Omar Mukhtar Brigade is said to have left Kufra to join the confrontation though I do not know where it is heading.
Haftar’s tribal militiamen seem to have set up a ring of road blocks around Benghazi in order to stop Islamist forces, from Derna in particular, from entering the city and coming to the aid of those within. The Islamist forces within Benghazi are made up of the Ansar Sharia Brigade, Libya Shield No. 1, Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade and 17th February Brigade.
At the time of writing the Libya Herald appears to be off line though its server may be unable to cope with the unprecedented number of calls on its service. The last news I have been able to access from that source was on 17th May 2014 and I take the liberty of copying parts of its despatches here.
‘A threat by General Khalifa Hafter made on Libya Awlan TV today to “cleanse and purify” Benghazi of Islamist militants took concrete form this evening when a massive explosion destroyed Ansar Al-Sharia’s radio station in the city’s Leithe district.
Earlier in the day, an imam, said to be a supporter of Ansar, was also reported killed at his home in Hay Salam. He was named as Mohamed Ashur.
Hafter launched his assault on Ansar as well as on 17 February Brigade and Libya Shield No. 1 Brigade, both widely viewed in the city as Islamist, from his Al-Rajma military compound in the east of the city yesterday morning. The operation which took everyone by surprise has so far left dozens dead and at least 250 wounded. Benghazi Medical Centre told the Libya that it had 35 bodies and dealt with 138 injury cases. Jalaa Hospital said it had two dead and 29 injured and Marj Hospital six dead and 81 injured.
Figures could not be obtained from Hawari and other hospitals.’

It seems that the action has been in the south west of the city – in Hawari and Sidi Ferej districts, in particular the area controlled by Ansar Al-Sharia between the south-western gate checkpoint and the cement factory – as well as in the port area where clashes were reported between Hafter’s forces and Libya Shield 1.
The Libya Herald continues:
‘……. Hijazi said that he did not recognize the legitimacy of the government or the GNC. He claimed that the GNC had long lost their legitimacy back on 7 February (the date he said they were supposed to end their term).
The government and GNC were out of touch, weak and ineffective, he added, saying that his own forces’ military actions were in response to demands of the people (in the face of terror attacks by extremists, criminals and extremist Islamists). He stressed that the “Dignity” operation would continue, but refused to disclose any further details.
Earlier in the day Hijazi had called on residents of three districts to evacuate, on the assumption of a planned military strike. However, Hijazi refused to elaborate.
This evening, there was an eerie calm in Benghazi as most of the city’s inhabitants waited nervously to see what happened next. There are conflicting reports as to how much support Hafter enjoys in Benghazi. Some inhabitants and commentators have expressed relief and joy on the fact that someone – anyone – was prepared to confront the extremist militias.
Others saw no difference between the illegitimate Hafter, who they saw as pursuing his own personal political agenda, and the extremist militias he was confronting.’

Some notes on Khalifa Hafter follow:-

The Libyan revolution began on 17th February 2011 in Benghazi. On Saturday 5th March 2011, the Libyan opposition movement in Benghazi nominated an Interim National Council to lay the foundations for a government. A Military Council of fifteen including, Omar Hariri, was also set up. The most interesting figure was Staff General Abdul Fatah Yunis, who had resigned as Gaddafi’s Interior Minister on 20th February. Yunis was a long standing colleague of Gaddafi and one of his companions in the 1969 coup. It seemed to some observers that he may have harboured ambitions to replace Gaddafi and some believed that he may have kept ‘back channels’ open to his erstwhile boss. He may even have attempted to negotiate a deal in which Gaddafi would stand down thus bring the rebellion to a relatively peaceful end. This would not have suited some of the hard line Islamist militias.
In protest over the Gaddafi brutality, Khalifa Hafter, a native of Benghazi who was a retired Libyan general made his way from the USA and joined the Military Council. He became the general commanding the rebel forces.
Hafter was one of Gaddafi’s senior officers during his long and abortive war with Chad. I understand he was left in Chad to fend for himself when Gaddafi withdrew his forces after a humiliating defeat. Hafter sought exile in the USA, living near the CIA Head Quarters in Langley and he may have been what is politely known as a CIA asset. It is this apparent connection with the CIA which has made Haftar unpopular in some quarters in Libya and allowed the suspicion to grow that he is still under its influence.
Early disagreements amongst members of the Military Council led to disquiet and Italy, France and Britain later sent teams of military advisers to get the staff work sorted out. After some infighting, Abdul Fatah Younis took overall command of the rebel forces with Hariri as his deputy and Hafter was deposed to third place. Abdul Fatah Younis was murdered on or around 29th July 2011 and his killers have yet to be brought to book. Hariri and Hafter remained in command at least until the attack on Tripoli. Harai’s whereabouts are not known at the moment but he, and Haftar, would have been precluded from military command by the Political Exclusion Law passed in February 2013 by the Libyan General National Council as he had held high office under Gaddafi.
I believe that Hafter has been touring the country and building support for the formation of a Libyan National Army with which he is about to confront the Islamist militias which are holding the reins of power in Benghazi and Tripoli. He appears to have won over the powerful Zintani militias and some Air Force units. It remains to be seen if he can win over the highly organised militias in Misurata which are known to have Islamist leanings and to oppose the Zintanis.
On 20th Febraray 2014 the ‘Middle East Online’ reported in part:
‘On….Feb 14, Maj. Gen. Khalifa Hafter announced a coup in Libya. “The national command of the Libyan Army is declaring a movement for a new road map” (to rescue the country), Hifter (sic) declared through a video post. Oddly enough, little followed by way of a major military deployment in any part of the country. The country’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan described the attempted coup as “ridiculous”.’
Ali Zeidan was deposed as Prime Minster and went into exile. Haftar roamed the country building a military following. He clearly reached the conclusion that the time was ripe to make his move when a number of protesters were killed in Benghazi. This report in the Libya Herald dated 10th May 2014 describes the event.
‘Three protestors were shot dead in Benghazi early this morning outside the headquarters of the 17 February Brigade. Another 20 were injured. Four were taken to the city’s Jalaa hospital, were one is in a critical condition, according to the hospital’s spokesperson. Sixteen were taken to the Benghazi Medical Centre………..The protestors had gone to the brigade’s headquarters after shots were fired yesterday afternoon at them while they were demonstrating outside the Tibesti Hotel over the security situation in the city. They were convinced that the gunmen were members of the brigade.
As with so many other similar incidents in Benghazi the exact circumstances of what happened are confusing and it is impossible to say who killed the demonstrators.
As they headed to the headquarters at the end of Venezia Street at about 7.30pm, ignoring warnings from the Benghazi Joint Security Room not to do so. Shortly afterwards, as dusk fell, the lights in the area were turned off.
For around two and a half hours they chanted slogans outside the gates of the brigade, which is headed by Ismail Salabi, such as “We don’t want you here”, “No to militias” and “All we need are the police and the army”. According to one of the protestors, there was then shooting of automatic rifles in the air from inside the headquarters, in “an attempt to scare us off”. Another report says that the shooting was proceeded by an explosion, possibly from anti aircraft missile fired from inside the base…..’

As I write Haftar may be regrouping to the east of Benghazi and awaiting further recruits to his banner. That the Special Forces ‘Lightening’ Brigade stationed in the city has declared for him he is commencing to look stronger.

22nd May 2014
According to Khalifa Hafter the pause in the progress of his forces in Benghazi is because the Islamist militias have taken refuge amongst the civilian population. This, he points out, requires a change in tactics in order to save innocent lives. He argues that the operation, code name Dignity, continues according to plan.

The commander-in-chief of Libya’s Air Force, Col. Gomaa Al-Abbani, has just backed Haftar’s offensive. Abbani said: “The Air Force’s Chief of Staff announces its full accession to Operation Dignity” and called on the Libyan people to “support the armed forces in their battle against terrorism and to restore security.”

In the meantime political support the operation appears to have grown. There are reports that the largest political bloc in the Libyan General National Congress, The National Forces Alliance, has voiced its support for Hafter.

Significantly, the powerful armed forces of Misurata assembled as though to move to Tripoli to oppose Hafter but stood down and returned to their bases. Their appearance in Tripoli would have caused some unrest in any case but their failure to act may have tipped the balance of power further in favour of Hafter. They are Islamist in outlook and will be a hard nut for Hafter’s forces to crack should it come to a showdown.

There are rumours that demonstrations in favour of Hafter’s Operation Dignity are planned in Tripoli and Benghazi tomorrow. We will see.

22nd May 2014

The Misurata militias did not abort their mission and have arrived, according to this AP report, in Tripoli. This will not help the planned? protests and Hafter will certainly face difficulties. See this:

‘Tripoli, AP—Islamist-led militias on Thursday streamed into the Libyan capital amid a standoff with fighters loyal to a renegade general whose offensive has won support from officials, diplomats and army units, but has also threatened to fragment the country further.

The militias, known as Libya Central Shield, are composed of groups from the western city of Misrata. They are under the command of the army’s chief of staff, who answers to parliament.

Witnesses in Tripoli said they saw Misrata militiamen take positions early on Thursday in army barracks in the city’s south, near the airport highway. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their own safety.’

This from the Libya Herald adds to the picture. The difference between the GNC and the government is becoming notable. ‘The Libyan Government has called on armed groups – namely Libya Central Shield, Qaaqaa and Sawaiq brigades – to leave Tripoli as the brigades squared up in the capital this evening.
Members of the Misratan-based Libya Central Shield arrived on the outskirts of Tripoli today, stationing themselves in the Salaheddin district, where clashes took place in the early hours of yesterday morning. It is not clear how many Shield troops have arrived in Tripoli……….It said it would hold the General National Congress (GNC) responsible for any of Libya Central Shield’s actions, because Congress head Nuri Abu Sahmain had called on them to protect the capital.’

The powerful Qaaqaa and Sawaiq brigades are from Zintan, the city in the Jebel Nefusa in which Saif al Islam Gaddafi is still held pending trial. They have been in Tripoli for some time.

There are useful and well informed sources which offer further information, in particular you will find Jason Pack here:
http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2014/05/libya-power-struggle-brink-civil-war-2014519151514777968.html

The best guide to the Libyan Militias is to be found here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19744533

John Oakes

For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Update 20th May 2014
Hafter speaks:
http://www.aawsat.net/2014/05/article55332450

Is this significant? Has the balance of power shifted in favour of Hafter? The Misuratani forces have failed to move to Tripoli.
http://www.libyaherald.com/2014/05/20/central-libya-shield-forces-scrap-move-on-tripoli/#axzz32LaFWQkw

Update 22nd May 2014

A good piece on Hafter in the Washington Post

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/rival-militias-prepare-for-showdown-in-tripoli-after-takeover-of-parliament/2014/05/19/cb36acc2-df6f-11e3-810f-764fe508b82d_story.html

LIBYA – MURDER IN DERNA

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American readers my recall learning that the Battle of Derna (27th April to 13th May 1805) was the first recorded land battle the United States fought overseas and is now always associated with the heroic actions of US Marine Corps First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon. They will know that it was this battle that gave rise to the famous line ‘From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli’.
They may not know that there is a new battle being fought in Derna. Secure as they are in the power of their inspirational Constitution they may also be unaware that the effort to forge one in Libya may be sabotaged by events in Derna.

There are Salafists in Libya – and in Egypt and Tunisia – who hold that the principles and practice of early Islam should govern the social and political life of the people. They believe that the true Islam, that of the Prophet Muhammad and the first, second and third generation of his followers, has been obfuscated, contaminated and watered down by constant amendments to its fundamental principles.
The Salafists are sect of Sunni Muslims who have thus far preferred to infiltrate their doctrine into local mosques and schools without violence. They abhor the Sufi sects and destroy the tombs of revered holy men holding that no one person can reinterpret the word of Allah as revealed in Arabic to the Prophet Mohammad and written in the Holy Koran – with the exception of themselves of course, a strange paradox which is not uncommon amongst zealots of any creed.
The more extreme Salafists, some authorities have called them Salafist Jihadists, refuse to become involved in elections because they perceive politics to be anti Islamic. In their view the will of god supersedes the will of the people. In practice this faction would impose its interpretation of Sharia law at the point of a gun. For them, to borrow a phrase, the automatic rifle outranks the ballot box.
The Salafist trend has been revitalized across the Arab world since the Arab Spring and the fall of dictatorships. In its militarized manifestation it has emerged as ‘Ansar al Sharia’ which roughly translates as ‘Partisans of Sharia Law’. A number of armed Ansar al Sharia groups have emerged in Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. In Libya the groups trace their origin to Islamist militias formed to topple Gaddafi in the civil war of 2011.
This recently appeared on the twitter feed of the Ansar al Sharia Brigade based in Benghazi; “The goal of Ansar al-Sharia brigade is to implement the laws of Allah on the land, and reject the human implemented laws and earthly made constitutions. There will be nothing ruling in this country other than the laws of Allah.” This was clearly intended to threaten the new Libyan Constitutional Assembly formed by a national election which took place the 20th February 2014 and tasked with the job of writing a constitution for the new Libya. The election was successfully completed throughout Libya with the notable of exception Muzurk, Kufra and Obari where ethnic minority issues are unresolved and Derna where the polling stations were closed by violence or the fear of violence by armed Islamist militias. Unless these elections are complete the Constitutional Assembly is unable to function.
Fifty years ago it took me somewhat more than four hours to drive eastwards from Benghazi, up the Tochra pass and through the lush country of the Jebel Akhdar (the Green Mountains) to the little Mediterranean port of Derna. In those days it was a good place to stop for a rest on the way to or from Tobruk, even though it meant a diversion down to sea level via the notorious hairpin bends from the high plateau of the Jebel.
For a number of years I worked with a talented native of Derna whose abilities as a linguist were extraordinary. He was a near native speaker of English and was fluent, as far as I could judge, in French, Italian and Greek. I cannot imagine that he, or the other Derna residents I met in the course of my duties, could become ruthless killers or adopt a form of Islam which rejects both the democratic process and liberal education.
Today no European would hazard his life to stop for a coffee in Derna and it is hard to reconcile my memory of those talented and hospitable colleagues and their well managed town with the stories of murder now emerging there from. What has happened?
We might hark back to the Gaddafi inspired propaganda during the Libyan uprising in February 2011 when it was asserted that an ‘Islamic Emirate of Derna’ had been declared under the leadership of one Abdul-Hakim al Hasadi who was said to be a Guantanamo returnee. Al Hasadi denied having been incarcerated in Guantanamo and stated that there was no Islamic Emirate. This led some observers to assume that Gaddafi’s propagandists had raised the spectre of an al-Qaeda linkage with Derna in order to legitimise his military response to the uprising in the Eastern cities. However, a captured Al Qaeda list of foreign fighters in Iraq contained the names of more Jihadists from Derna than any other city. That, and the subsequent history of Islamist activity in Derna, led some of us to revise this view. Recent events may explain why.
Earlier this April (2014) three of Derna’s Islamist armed militia, the Army of the Islamist Sate of Libya, the Derna branch of Ansar Al-Sharia and the supporters of Sufian Ben Qumu the sometime Guantanamo detainee, formed themselves into a single unit called ‘The Shoura Council of Islamic Youth in Derna’ and paraded unopposed through the town in their ‘Technicals’ and other armed vehicles. A photograph which appeared on 6th April 2014 in Asharq Al-Awsat showed militiamen raising the flags of Al-Qaeda during this parade.
It is not surprising that the presence of Ben Qumu and the show of Al Qaeda flags in Derna leads us to wonder if there are active connections with ‘Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)’ which operates in Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger and aims to replace their ‘apostate’ governments with Islamist regimes. AQIM is a militant group with great regional – and international – reach. Its criminal activities have made it al-Qaeda`s richest franchise. What is more there are those who suggest potential connections between the Derna Islamists and other like organisations such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Somalia.
There are clear signs that disputes have arisen between Islamists in Derna. This report appeared in the Libya Herald on 8th April 2014:
‘One of the leaders of the newly formed Derna Islamist militia, the Shoura Council of Islamic Youth in Derna, has been found murdered. According to security sources, the body of Ali Abdullah Ben Tahir, known as Al-Far (the “Mouse”), was discovered very early this morning riddled with bullets at Karsa, outside the town. He was one of the leaders of the Army of the Islamic State of Libya.
It is not known who killed Ben Tahir, a member of a prominent local family other members of which are involved in the Islamist cause. However, the same security sources say there has been infighting among Derna’s Islamists both on ideological grounds and over who should lead the movement……
Three weeks ago, Mohammed Al-Douri, said to have been close to Ben Qumu was shot dead. A few days earlier four other men, also said to be Islamists, were shot dead by gunmen who attacked the farm near Derna where they were staying.’

The battle for control of post Gaddafi Libya is beginning to focus on the wording of a new constitution. Some time ago I wrote ‘There are three major currents within the Islamic world today – modernism which calls for a contemporary interpretation of Islam, secularism which calls for the separation of religion and politics and fundamentalism which is unwavering in its adherence to traditional Islam and strongly anti-western. We will see these three currents in play should the Libyan Constitutional Assembly be able to function and accommodate all the various factions now competing to get their hands on the levers of power.

I also wrote ‘Seeds of religious intolerance have germinated in the Arab Spring. Are the shoots about to bear fruit and multiply?’ It would seem that they are in Derna.
John Oakes
24th April 2014
For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Update 27th April 2014

In the light of Libya’s efforts to form a democratic government this piece by Youssef Cherif is worth reading.
http://www.majalla.com/eng/2014/04/article55249680

Update 7th May 2014

I am still reading this long and detailed paper on the ‘Sufi v Salafi’ struggle. It is worth the effort in the light of events in Libya and Nigeria.

https://muslimsinafrica.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/sufis-v-salafis-winning-friends-and-interdicting-enemies-in-islamic-africa-dr-timothy-r-furnish/

LIBYA – TRIBES AND TRIBULATIONS

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Jamal Adel, in a report in the Libya Herald dated 7th February 2014 writes; ‘A meeting at a Tripoli hotel of elders and tribal leaders from across the country descended into chaos yesterday when remarks by one of them provoked a backlash forcing the delegates to quit for an early lunch.
While the members had gathered in Tripoli to discuss the possibility of a more prominent national role, the meeting was disrupted by raucous heckling when a delegate from the Al-Awageer tribe, the largest tribe in Benghazi, accused his colleagues of various inadequacies.
The attack elicited a strong sense of dissatisfaction among most members and tempers flared to the point that lunch had to be called early. By the time talks resumed at 4:00 it was too late to make any formal decisions.
Beforehand, the head of Tripoli Local Council, Sadat Elbadri, had made opening statements greeting delegates, followed by an announcement of the meeting’s support for the army and police.
The delegate for the south, Abdisslam Ali Khalifa also expressed, at length and without reserve, his gratitude to Zintani and Misratan revolutionaries for restoring peace to Sebha after recent tribal violence.’

It might be interesting to use this excellent report to look briefly at the influence tribes exert in the struggle for power in post Gaddafi Libya. Before embarking on a discussion of the points raised I offer this as a working hypothesis. ‘Whilst 80% or more Libyans now live in towns and cities the influence of its historic Arab tribes is still significant but tends to be divisive.’ Secondly I suggest that the security of Libya and her near neighbours is threatened by the minority rights issues raised by indigenous Tebu, Tuareg and Berber people. Thirdly I argue that the Eastern (Cyrenaican) cites of Benghazi and Derna are the intellectual centres of militant religiosity supported by forces outside Libya and fourthly I would note that Southern Libya, long known as the Fezzan, is now perilously out of control. The consequence of this is that the trans-Saharan routes through the Libyan oasis staging posts and hubs, such as Sebha and Kufra, attract illegal trade in arms, drugs and people. The battle for control of Sebha and Kufra and the illegal trade they attract is largely between the Tebu people and Arab tribes – the Sway in Kufra and the Awlad Suleiman and its allies in Sebha.
The aristocratic Arab tribes of Libya are perceived to have descended from the Beni Hillal and Beni Sulaim, two tribes from the Nejd, now part of Saudi Arabia, which migrated through Egypt into Libya in the 11th Century. Anyone who can successfully claim descent from them is a nobleman or Hurr by birth. These pure Arab Bedouin tribes displaced the indigenous Berbers and settled mainly, though not solely, in Eastern Libya and founded the nine Saadi tribes one of which is the Awaqir. They pressed onwards and some of their descendants can be found in Sothern Libya. The Awlad Sulieman is one such tribe which has its homeland (wattan) in the Fezzan (Southern Libya) and in neighbouring Chad.
BENGHAZI – TRIBES AND JIHADISTS
The delegate from the Awaqir tribe mentioned in Jamal Adel’s report appears to have torpedoed the conference of tribal leaders and elders by expressing his frustration at considerable length. I and my family owe a great deal to one of the leading families of the Awaqir and I can empathise with the delegate’s anger whilst feeling somewhat embarrassed by his efforts. The Awaqir tribe is one of the nine aristocratic Saadi tribes which were influential during the reign of King Idris but stripped of their power by Gaddafi. It holds extensive lands to the south and west of Benghazi. It is a complex and multiethnic tribe, some braches of which were semi nomadic pastoralists and some more sedentary.
When the oil boom began in the 1950s Awaqir tribe members migrated from their homelands into Benghazi to find employment, living at first in makeshift huts on the outskirts. As employment increased the rough huts were improved with corrugated iron and Benghazi’s ‘Tin Towns’ came onto being. Gradually the tin huts were replaced by permanent buildings but tribal and sub-tribal ties were maintained in the new neighbourhoods of Gaddafi’s Benghazi, a city he disliked intensely.
This movement from the traditionally tribal hinterland into the burgeoning cites accelerated as Libya developed a society which derived most of its wealth from oil. Nowadays at least 80% of the population lives in the coastal cities supplied with abundant water from the fossil aquifers below the Libyan Desert and the Sahara via the Great Man Made River.
Benghazi presents us with an interesting case study. The fall of Gaddafi has been followed by a severe breakdown in security in Benghazi and by the rise therein of Jihadist and Salafist militias. Benghazi and Derna, the coastal city to its north east, are said to be the intellectual centres of the fiercely religious Islamist factions with Al Qaeda contacts and deriving much of their support from external sources. It is said that these two cities draw aspiring jihadists from Libya’s neighbours for indoctrination and motivation. It is this militant religiosity, long suppressed by Gaddafi, which is now one of the major wrecking factors in Libya today. Killings and abductions are now commonplace in the Benghazi. It will be recalled that a US ambassador was killed there and the culprits appear to remain above the law. In the present climate of discord in Benghazi no judge would hazard his life to preside over the trail of the ambassador’s killers
No doubt the raucous Awaqir leader described by Jamal Adel was voicing his frustration with the central government which has, so far, been unable to restore order and the rule of law. He may have also harboured some anger because the Awaqir has not been included in the higher reaches of the post Gaddafi government despite intensive lobbying.
MISRATA AND ZINTAN – TWO POWERFUL TRIBES AND THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER IN LIBYA.
From Jamal Adel’s piece above we read of Abdisslam Ali Khalifa’s profuse thanks to the revolutionaries (Thuwars) of Zintan and Misrata. This highlights the fact that tribal and clan allegiances are very strong in both cities. Firstly the cities and tribes bear the same name and have developed formidable armed forces which are largely independent of the state. In Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, fierce independence, a mercantile and martial spirit and civic cohesion have long been characteristic. The battle between Gaddafi’s forces and the rebels in Misrata was brutal. The battle hardened Misratan revolutionary militias are relatively well organised and disciplined. They have recently been called into Tripoli to forestall a coup and have been involved in the taming the powerful Warfella tribe, their traditional enemy to the south, which was said to harbour Gaddafi loyalists – and may still do so. The Misratan militias are said to favour the Moslem Brotherhood’s somewhat theocratic Justice and Construction Party in the current Libyan General National Congress (GNC).
The city of Zintan has a long tribal tradition. There are, in fact, two tribes in Zintan, one of which is Arab and the other Berber. Long practice of cooperation in the ‘Shura’ (the council of tribal elders) has assured strong local government and strengthened the Zintani’s. They have acquired large quantities of Gaddafi’s abandoned arms and developed considerable military clout. Gaddafi’s second son, Saif al Islam Gaddafi, remains in prison in Zintan awaiting trial, officially until the rule of law and the judiciary are restored in Libya, but more likely as a ‘hostage of influence’. The Zintani’s also maintain a strong military presence in Tripoli in order to safeguard their influence over the shaky coalition currently struggling to govern Libya. Whilst stable local government exists in Zintan there have been armed clashes with the neighbouring Mashasha tribe over a land rights dispute which has its origins in Gaddafi’s arbitrary redistribution of tribal land. The Zintani militias are said to favour Mahmoud Jibril al Warfelli’s more pragmatic National Forces Alliance in the GNC.
SABHA – TRIBAL AND RACIAL DISCORD
The modern town of Sebha has developed from the three oasis settlements of Jedid, Quatar and Hejer and now houses a population of around 200,000. It is the seat of the Saif al Nasr family, the most prominent and revered leaders of the Awlad Sulieman tribe and its historic allies and clients. The Saif al Nasr family gained heroic status in its wars with their Ottoman Turk overlords in the early 19th century and with the Italian colonists in the early 20th Century.
Gaddafi’s father migrated from Sirte to Sebha to take menial employment with the Saif al Nasr family, something which his son was said to resent. Gaddafi attended secondary school in Sebha and staged his first anti government demonstration as a school boy in the city. He also held a demonstration in the lobby of a hotel owned by the Saif al Nasr family, thus ensuring his expulsion from school. The relationship between Sebha and Gaddafi was ambiguous!
The Saif al Nasr family and the Awlad Suleiman tribe it led were the dominate force in Sebha and in much of the Fezzan throughout the Ottoman Turkish regency (1551 – 1911), the Italian colonial period (1911 – 1943), the short period (1943 – 1951) of French military government after WWII and the Kingdom of Libya (1951 -1969). During the forty or so years of the Gaddafi era the dominance in the Fezzan of the Awlad Suleiman was reversed in favour of his own tribe, the Gaddadfa and that of his closest supporters, the Maqarha tribe. This process has been dubbed ‘tribal inversion’ by Jason Pack and his colleges writing in their book ‘The 2011 Libyan Uprisings and the Struggle for the Post-Qadhafi Future’. This book is essential reading but somewhat expensive.
Apart from a number of so called al Ahali, the name given to long time town dwellers, Sebha offers a home to people from other tribes such as the Gaddadfa, Muammar Gaddafi’s tribe, which is based near Sirte but ranges south towards Sebha. There are also colonies of the Maqarha from the Wadi Shati to the north, the Awlad Abu Seif and the Hasawna tribe who, in the past, were the true nomads of the south and allies of the Awlad Suleiman.
There is one district of Sebha which has been a source of discord for some time. It is the Tauri district which is colonised by some Tuareg and many Tebu. The Tebu people are part of a wider ethnic group called the Teda, desert warriors living in the eastern and central Sahara and, effectively, a black people without nationality. The majority of them can be found in the Tibesti Mountains on the Libyan-Chad border. Their harsh environment, extreme poverty, and remote location make them a very tough people. They have often clashed with the neighboring tribes and with the Tuareg and, like the gypsies in Great Britain, are despised by the dominant communities who see them as petty thieves and liars.
Traditionally, the Teda controlled the caravan trade routes that passed through their territory. They were widely known in the past for plundering and salve trading. Their language is Tebu and their basic social unit is the nuclear family, organized into clans. They live by a combination of pastoralism, farming, subsistence smuggling and date cultivation.
Since the fall of Gaddafi, Tebu militias have come to dominate the South and Libya’s borders with Chad and Niger. They are perceived by the majority of the inhabitants of Sebha to be non Libyans trying to control the city. In particular they now dominate the majority of the trade (legal and illicit) routes between Sebha and the Chad basin. Thus they have a firm grip on the regional arms and drug trade and on people trafficking. The Awlad Suleiman tribesman may still have their own trade routes in this area but perceive the Tebu to be a foreign and ethnically inferior threat to their historic dominance of the region.
There is a great deal of racism in Libya where the white Arab majority dispise black Africans. This may well stem from the trans-Saharan slave trading era which was still active in Benghazi until 1911. There are now thousands of black Africans incarcerated in Libya’s prisons and brutal reprisals were taken by some rebel militia against black Africans who may or may not have been Gaddafi’s mercenaries during the 2011 rebellion.
The Tebu make common cause with the Tuareg and the Berbers of the Jebel Nefusa in efforts to have their rights enshrined in the new Libya constitution currently under consideration.
The Libya Herald report quoted above tells us that Zintani and Misratan Militias were largely responsible for restoring a fragile peace in the Sothern city of Sebha. This from the Libya Herald datelined Tripoli, 12 January 2014 gives us some insight into events there;
‘Fighting eased today in Sebha, but not sufficiently for a newly-arrived team of mediators to begin the process of defusing the conflict between Tebu tribesmen and members of the Awlad Sulieman clan.
According to Ayoub Alzaroug of Sebha local council, 21 people have now died and 45 have been wounded, some of them seriously, in four days of fighting. Alzaroug told the Libya Herald that today the situation was “relatively calm” compared with the past three days.
According to one local resident, Tebu fighters now control some strategic areas within the city and around the airport, as well as occupying several compounds used by the Awlad Sulieman clan .
Members of the Western region mediation committee, which includes representative from Tripoli, Misrata, Zintan and the Jebel Nafusa reached the city this morning, but could not begin their work because of concerns for their safety.’

This and other reports make it clear that the mediators were called in by Ali Zeidan, the Libyan prime minister, to settle a bitter and lethal series of inter-tribal and inter-racial skirmishes which have left many dead and wounded in Sebha. The armed clashes had become so intense that Gaddafist forces drawn, I believe, from the Gaddadfa and Maqarha tribes, took the opportunity to take control of an important air base close to Sebha and spark off Gaddafist hopes of a restoration of the dread regime under the leadership of Gaddafi’s playboy son Al Saadi Gaddafi who, as I write, has arrived in Tripoli having been extradited from Niger.
GADDAFIST ‘ALGAE’ MAKE A FLEETING APPERNCE
The Gaddafist hopes were raised further by a sympathetic uprising of factions of the Warsifana tribe in the immediate neighbourhood of Tripoli. The uprising was quelled by militias who, with typical Libyan irony, refer to the Warsifana tribe as ‘algae’ because of their long allegiance to Gaddafi and his Green Flag.
The Small Arms Survey ‘Dispatch No 3’ dated February tells us of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s support from the tribes of Sothern Libya. Unless the Libya government is able to project civil and military power into the region very soon it will face losing control completely. A key paragraph is quoted here:
‘The Qaddafi era’s legacies weigh heavily on southern Libya, which had been the regime’s main stronghold along with Sirte, Bani Walid, and Tarhuna. The communities in the region were among the main recruitment bases for the regime’s security battalions and intelligence services. Key units were based on particular tribal constituencies:
• The Maghawir Brigade, based in Ubari, was made up exclusively of recruits from Tuareg tribes of Malian and Nigerien origin.
• The Tariq bin Ziyad Brigade, also based in Ubari, was dominated by Qadhadhfa and Awlad Suleiman.
• The Faris Brigade, based in Sabha, was recruited from Qadhadhfa, Warfalla, Awlad Suleiman, and Tubu.
• The Sahban Brigade, based in Gharyan, was led by Maqarha.’

The many facets of this series of armed disputes are not easy to resolve unless we understand that the tribes which were dominant in Libya during the reign of King Idris (1951 – 1969) were superseded by Gaddafi’s own tribe, the Gaddadfa, which was considered to by many to be Marabtin, that is a client tribe and thus inferior. Some call the Gaddadfa an Arabized Berber tribe but I suspect that it may have originated as a faction which broke off from the greater Warfella tribe at some time in the distant past. In any event it is clear that the Awlad Suleiman are attempting to reassert their historic dominance though the suspicion lingers that they are also vying for control of the lucrative illegal trade routes with the Tebu.
TRIPOLI AND THE FALL OF ALI ZEIDAN
We might legitimately ask why Prime Minister Ali Zeidan called upon Zintani and Misratan forces to intervene in this dispute rather than the National Army. There may be two answers to the question. The first is disconcertingly significant. The army Chief of Staff Jadallah Al-Obaidi refuses to take orders from Ali Zeidan. He may also feel that the still ‘embryonic’ National Army is not yet capable of deploying sufficient force 476 road miles to the south and lacks the training to intervene in civil disputes.There are disturbing signs today (10th March 2014) of a rift between the Chief of Staff and the government. Second, the General National Congress has today sacked Ali Zeidan from his post as Prime Minster and replaced him temporarily with Defence Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni, whose reputation for dealing with the troubles in the South is encouraging. We will see.

Readers looking for an in depth analysis of the role of tribes in Libya might find this helpful:

Click to access analysis_172_2013.pdf

John Oakes
11th March 2014

For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Update 24th March 2014

There is still unrest in Sebha it seems.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2014/03/24/sebha-airport-still-closed/#axzz2ws5Riwm2

LIBYA – NOTES ON TRIPOLI’S ‘BLACK FRIDAY’- 15TH NOVEMBER 2013

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A report from Cairo carried by Asharq Al-Awsat dated 16th November 2013 states—‘At least 40 people have been killed and more than 400 injured in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, after militiamen opened fire on protesters [in the Gharghur district] calling for their disbandment on Friday……The militia blamed for last week’s violence, which allegedly included the use of heavy weapons against unarmed civilian protesters, are based in the city of Misrata. In response to their expulsion from the capital, the Misratan governing council announced the suspension of the membership of the city’s representatives at the GNC, as well as members of the government. It also announced the withdrawal of all “revolutionaries” from Tripoli within 72 hours’.
Later the casualty figures were revised. It is believed that 47 people were killed and 508 injured. Sixty of the injured have been sent abroad for treatment. Other casualties are receiving treatment at private and public medical centers, 20 of whom are in very critical conditions and cannot be moved.

Ashraq Al-Awsat, in a report date Sunday 17th November 2013 stated – Residents of the Libyan capital launched a general strike Sunday over a militia violence that killed nearly 50 people this weekend.
The streets of Tripoli were deserted as the vast majority of the city’s businesses and schools were closed. Bakeries, pharmacies, hospitals and gas stations remained open. Sadat Al-Badri, who is head of Tripoli’s city council, said the strike is to last three days.

Armed residents set up checkpoints throughout the city to protect their neighborhoods, fearing renewed violence.
Libya’s state news agency LANA also said Sunday the Misrata militia accused of being responsible for Friday’s killing of 43 people at a protest abandoned its headquarters in the southern Tripoli neighborhood of Gharghur.
Late Saturday, a government-affiliated militia, the Libya Shield-Central Command, said it was in control of Gharghur. In a statement read on Libya’s private Al-Ahrar television channel, the militia declared it a military zone and vowed to turn it over to the government. The majority of Libya Shield’s militiamen also hail from Misrata
(It is worth noting here that at the end of June 2013 the General National Council passed Law 27 which states that ‘armed groups’ must leave Tripoli by the end of 2013. The law was passed because of constant armed clashes between rival militias.)

News of the terrible events in Tripoli on ‘Black Friday’ 15h November 2013 was carried on BBC TV. It is hard for those who do not live in Libya to understand the difficulties arising from the fall of the Gaddafi regime which bedevil ordinary Libyans. The major problem is the 1,700 or so militias which occupy the cities and towns throughout Libya in the absence of an effective police force or army. In this regard I wrote the following on 13th August 2013 and it may prove useful here:

“SOME NOTES ON THE ‘LIBYA SHIELD’ AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO THE LIBYAN NATIONAL ARMY

The 17th February Revolution which finally toppled Gaddafi from power started as an escalating street protest in Libya’s second city Benghazi. Gradually various street fighting groups acquired weapons and leadership and gelled into revolutionary brigades. In Benghazi some of the leadership was supplied by Islamists long suppressed by Gaddafi. A similar pattern emerged in the other centers where fighting was at its most intense, namely Zintan and Misrata., though in these last two Islamist influence was not as strong.

The fighting brigades managed to gain control over the large quantities of arms which Gaddafi had accumulated over the years. These included an especially large number of tanks which they learned to operate effectively. Thus the majority of weaponry is in their hands. To date the revolutionary brigades have not disbanded nor have they relinquished their weaponry despite a number of arms amnesties.

The brigades do not see themselves as militias but as Revolutionary Brigades of Thwars. Between them they control 80 percent of the battle hardened troops in Libya and around 80 percent of the weaponry. As do the British Army regiments, they have developed strong loyalties to their leadership and there peer-bonding is notably strong despite their varied backgrounds as students, workers, academics and professionals. They resemble the Boer Commandoes in the South African War and follow the ancient Libyan tribal ways in that their decision making processes is consensual.

The majority of Revolutionary Brigades are coordinated by local military councils. However, some brigades have broken from the majority in one way or another and operate lawlessly. They remain the main obstacle to peace in the country and are responsible for the majority of human rights violations.

In the aftermath of the revolution a security vacuum developed. Largely as a result a number of ‘Post Revolutionary’ brigades formed. They are often engaged in local violent conflicts.

There are a number of criminal groups which pose as Thwars. There are also extremist groups with Salfaist/Wahabi/Jihadist links which are gaining in importance in the post Gaddafi security vacuum. They are prominent in Benghazi and Derna. They may derive support from external sources but have little popular support.

So far the Revolutionary Brigades have steadfastly refused to amalgamate with the National Army the leadership of which they distrust and do not, by and large, respect. They have, therefore, formed a second Libyan Army called the Libya Shield. The control of the Libya Shield is ceded directly to the Chief of Staff of the Libya Army.
This means that, at the time of writing, the Chief of Staff has to try to lead two separate armies, the National Army and the Libya Shield.The later are still receiving pay from the government for services rendered. The Shield Brigades received a very large sum (900,000Libya Dinars) in back pay recently.”

The presence of Misratan Brigades in Tripoli needs some explanation. In early August this year there was a serious threat of an armed coup. In order to secure the government of Ali Zeidan it was decided to bring a number of militia brigades to aid of the civil powers. It was thus that Colonel Muhamed Musa commanding the Misratan Brigades of the Libyan Shield Force and others entered Tripoli on 11th August to forestall armed attempts to influence the democratic process of the General National Congress. According to the Libya Herald dated 11th August 2013 ‘More than a thousand vehicles belonging to the Libya Shield forces for Central and Western Regions are reported to have arrived in Tripoli over the past four days. The troops have been deployed to various military locations in and around the capital. The move is to defend it from forces causing instability or planning a move to impose their will on Congress and the government by force…………’

The Libyan government has promised a full report on the events of ‘Black Friday’. Some sources are suggesting that the protest was properly authorized but only for the al Aqsa Mosque/Abu Harida square. It appears to have moved from there to the Ghargur district without authorization or police protection. The Misuratans are complaining that some protesters were armed and opened fire on their militiaman. We will see.

JOHN OAKES
26TH NOVEMBER 2013

For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Read reports of events in Tripoli in Ashraq Al-Awsat.

http://www.aawsat.net/2013/11/article55322630
http://www.aawsat.net/2013/11/article55322741
http://www.aawsat.net/2013/11/article55322855
http://www.aawsat.net/2013/11/article55323141
http://www.aawsat.net/2013/11/article55322665

A POSSIBLE COUP IN TRIPOLI -COLONEL MUHAMED MUSA AND THE MISRATAN THWARS COME TO THE AID OF THE CIVIL POWERS

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Colonel Muhamed Musa commands the Misratan Brigades of the Libyan Shield Force and others which entered Tripoli on 11th August to forestall armed attempts to influence the democratic process of the General National Congress.

According to the Libya Herald dated 11th August 2013 ‘More than a thousand vehicles belonging to the Libya Shield forces for Central and Western Regions are reported to have arrived in Tripoli over the past four days. The troops have been deployed to various military locations in and around the capital. The move is to defend it from forces causing instability or planning a move to impose their will on Congress and the government by force…………’ The Executive officer of Supreme Revolutionary Council, Muhammed Shaaban, told the Libya Herald…..  It was timely to authorise the Libya Shield movement. The threat of a coup was very real and those informed know about its repercussions .’  There has clearly been a threat to undermine the democratic process in Libya.

The new Chief of Staff, Abdulsalam Al-Obaidi, enjoys better relations with the countries’ many Revolutionary Brigades which have hitherto refused to relinquish their independence and join the regular army. That Colonel Musa has led his considerable following into direct cooperation with the civil power speaks volumes.

The two questions are;

Who is the likely coup leader, where does he come from and how strong would his challenge have been?

Will Colonel Musa’s agreement to come to the aid of the civil power mean that others will follow so that the Revolutionary Brigades (Thwars) will be absorbed into the regular army with one command structure and a common aim?  

(Even so, Libyan TV has just reported that ‘Amazigh demonstrators stormed the General National Congress on Tuesday, after a protest was staged to demand their language to be recognised in the new constitution.

The protesters broke into the conference room without causing any sufficient damage or casualties, expressing their anger at the lack of recognition the culture receives and to promote Amazigh rights.

The GNC halted any activity due to the protest, in order to swerve any further interruption.)

SOME NOTES ON THE ‘LIBYA SHIELD’ AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO THE LIBYAN NATIONAL ARMY

The 17th February Revolution which finally toppled Gaddafi from power started as an escalating street protest in Libya’s second city Benghazi. Gradually various street fighting groups acquired weapons and leadership and gelled into revolutionary brigades. In Benghazi some of the leadership was supplied by Islamists long suppressed by Gaddafi. A similar pattern emerged in the other centres where fighting was at its most intense, namely Zintan and Misrata., though in these last two Islamist influence was not as strong.

The fighting brigades managed to gain control over the large quantities of arms which Gaddafi had accumulated over the years. These included an especially large number of tanks which they learned to operate effectively. Thus the majority of weaponry is in their hands. To date the revolutionary brigades have not disbanded nor have they relinquished their weaponry despite a number of arms amnesties.

The brigades do not see themselves as militias but as Revolutionary Brigades of Thwars. Between them they control 80 percent of the battle hardened troops in Libya and around 80 percent of the weaponry. As do the British Army regiments, they have developed strong loyalties to their leadership and there peer-bonding is notably strong despite their varied backgrounds as students, workers, academics and professionals. They resemble the Boer Commandoes in the South African War and follow the ancient Libyan tribal ways in that their decision making processes is consensual.

The majority of Revolutionary Brigades are coordinated by local military councils. However, some brigades have broken from the majority in one way or another and operate lawlessly. They remain the main obstacle to peace in the country and are responsible for the majority of human rights violations.

In the aftermath of the revolution a security vacuum developed. Largely as a result a number of ‘Post Revolutionary’ brigades formed. They are often engaged in local violent conflicts.

There are a number of criminal groups which pose as Thwars. There are also extremist groups with Salfaist/Wahabi/Jihadist links which are gaining in importance in the post Gaddafi security vacuum. They are prominent in Benghazi and Derna. They may derive support from external sources but have little popular support.

So far the Revolutionary Brigades have steadfastly refused to amalgamate with the National Army the leadership of which they distrust and do not, by and large, respect. They have, therefore, formed a second Libyan Army called the Libya Shield. The control of the Libya Shield is ceded directly to the Chief of Staff of the Libya Army.
This means that, at the time of writing, the Chief of Staff has to try to lead two separate armies, the National Army and the Libya Shield.

A spokesman recently told the Libya Herald:
“There is genuine desire to form the national army and support the Chief of Staff to make it happen. One suggestion is to appoint army commanders who were loyal to the 17 February revolution from the beginning as well as the defectors that parted ways with the (Qaddafi) regime after seeing the bloody crackdown – but not the ones that jumped from the sinking ship. These points would be accepted by all the revolutionaries as this has been their demand from October 2011. They can serve under such officers. The brigades would then be dissolved – because the main factor stopping them from joining the army would be taken care of.”

That is why Colonel Musa’s action of bring his Libya Shield brigades to the aid of the civil power in Tripoli recently has so much significance.

JOHN OAKES
For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Update 15th August 2013

Ali Tarhuni talks sense. His words are clearly reported here by the editor of the Libya Herald;

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/08/14/tarhouni-calls-for-crisis-government-to-deal-with-security-and-for-congress-to-adopt-1963-constitution-temporarily/

Update 17th August 2013

The Tobruk Libya Shield Brigade has taken a lead by relinquishing its weapons to the LIbyan Air Force and disbanding.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/08/15/tobruk-shield-brigade-dissolves-itself/

LIBYA’S PARLOUS STATE.- SOME NOTES ON THE MAY 2013 CRISIS IN LIBYA

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Armed militia units entered the Libyan capital, Tripoli, with the intention of influencing a vote in the democratically elected General National Congress. The likelihood that the government and the armed forces would be destabilised has alarmed many observers.

A Reuters report datelined 7th May 2013 from Tripoli read –“ Libya’s defence minister resigned on Tuesday in protest at a siege by gunmen of two government ministries that he denounced as an assault on democracy almost two years after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

He was the first cabinet minister to quit in a crisis over the siege, which armed groups refused to lift even after parliament bowed on Sunday to their main demand by banning from government posts any senior official who served under Gaddafi.

“I will never be able to accept that politics (can) be practiced by the power of weapons … This is an assault against the democracy I have sworn to protect,” Defence Minister Mohammed al-Bargathi said.

Members of parliament in Libya, plagued by armed disorder since Gaddafi’s demise, say the new legislation could be applied to around 40 of 200 deputies and could also unseat the prime minister, who some protesters demand should quit immediately.

Diplomats fear that parliament, in agreeing to vote under duress, could effectively embolden the powerful armed groups that fought to topple Gaddafi and are now more visible in Libya than state security forces, and that the sweeping terms of the vote could cripple the government’s ability to function.

On Monday a spokesman for parliament conceded that the siege of the ministries was out of the government’s hands and that it would be up to the militiamen now to leave as promised.”

Update 18th May 2013

It now seems that the Interior Minister also tendered his resignation (according the Libya Herald dated 18th May 2013):-

Interior Minister Ashour Shuwail handed in his resignation ten days ago, but Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has refused to accept it.

“The Interior Minister handed over his resignation to the Prime Ministry but it has not yet been accepted,” spokesman of Libya’s Interior Ministry, Majdi Urufi, said, speaking live on state television station Al-Watanya.

It now (22nd May 2013) seems that the Interior Misister, Ashour Shuwail, has refused to withdraw his resignation despite the Prime MInister’s efforts to retain him. Dr. Zedan has asked the GNC to approve Khalifa Shiekh for the post. He is from Suq Al-Jumaa and was an assistant to former Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelal with whom he fell out.

AN ATTEMPT TO SUBVERT LIBYA’S DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED GENERAL NATIONAL CONGRESS BY FORCE OF ARMS?

The Libyan General National Congress (GNC) voted on Sunday 5th May 2013 to form a High Committee to Implement the Criteria for Occupying Public Positions to implement a Political Isolation Law. Under the law all those who held key posts from September 1, 1969 when Gaddafi took power, until the fall of his regime in October 2011 will be excluded from government. The ban will remain in force for 10 years, according to the draft.

The law could force out several ministers as well as the congress leader, depending on the wording finally adopted. The GNC Vice President, Salah al-Makhzoum, said a compromise had been reached among the political blocs by adding “exceptions” in the bill in order to retain key individuals. It remains to be seen if these exceptions were included in Sunday’s vote.

As they voted the freely elected legislators of the GNC may have been influenced or even intimidated by armed revolutionary militia brigades surrounding the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Justice Ministry. Observers have noted that brigades from Misurata, Nalut, Benghazi and Tripoli were numbered amongst them. It is estimated that more than 300 armed militia vehicles entered Tripoli during late March and early May.

Prime Minister Zedan at first stated that the pressure brought upon the GNC by armed militias may have ensured that the vote for the Political Exclusion Law was passed in haste and under duress. In this context it is noted that Dr. Zedan revealed he had been targeted by armed men during a conference with the militias.The Libya Herald quotes him thus:

It has emerged that militiamen tried to intimidate Prime Minister Ali Zeidan when he met and negotiated with them. He said today that they had brandished a grenade and a gun at him. He did not say when this happened. ”The rebels unlocked the grenade in front of me but no one was hurt because the grenade did not explode and it was taken quickly outside the Prime Ministry headquarters,” he stated today at a press conference. He said that they also had put a gun on the table in front of him saying that they could easily use force against him.

So incensed was his defence minister, Mohamed Bargahthi, that he resigned in protest against the use of force to influence a democratically elected congress.

Prime Minister Zedan singled out Adel Al-Ghiryani, the president of the ‘Supreme Council of Libyan Revolutionaries’, as the possible instigator and leader of the armed intervention. It is easy to see why. Al-Ghiryani spoke to the media outside the besieged Foreign Ministry in Tripoli demanding the dismissal of Ministry employees, including Libyan ambassadors who had worked for Qaddafi. His Vice President, Mr Kaabar, went further and stated: “We are determined to bring down the government of Ali Zidan.”

It is interesting, therefore, that no less a figure than sometime post-Gaddafi Libyan Prime Minister, Dr. Mahmoud Jibril, has had the courage to speak out against the law. He is now the Head of the National Force Alliance party in the GNC and commands a considerable following in the country. He told Al-Arabiya TV, “We participated in the overthrowing of Gaddafi but the law says we must go. But I say that I have performed my part in the 17 February Revolution and no isolation law is able to erase that from history.” Political proscription should, he said, be based on what individuals had done rather than the jobs they had held. In his interview with Al Arabiya TV Jibril said that legislation as sweeping as the Political Isolation Law was unprecedented in any country. He also deplored the presence of militias besieging government ministries before the GNC took its vote. “The law was passed under duress and force of arms.Libya needs to approve the isolation law, but not now.”

The case of Mahmoud Jibril illustrates the difficulties the ‘political isolation’ law may create for the governance of Libya.

The problem for Jibril is that from 2007 to early 2011, he served the Gaddafi regime as head of the National Planning Council of Libya and of the National Economic Development Board of Libya. He was one of the ‘jama‘at Saif,’ a group of apparatchiks recruited to high level posts by Gaddafi’s favourite son, Saif al Islam, who was attempting to soften his father’s autocratic rule but expected to succeed him. Jibril’s tribe, the Warfella, is thought by some to be Gaddafist. It supplied many of Gaddafi’s security personnel and army officers.

A DILEMMA FOR THE NEW HIGH COMMITTEE TO IMPLEMENT THE CRITERIA FOR OCCUPYING PUBLIC POSITONS

Jibril has a point and the key role he played in the days when the ‘17th February 2011’ anti-Gaddafi rebels were close to extermination in Benghazi may have been forgotten outside Libya. A short summary of the key events may serve to remind us.

On Saturday 5th March 2011, the Libyan opposition movement in Benghazi nominated an Interim National Council to lay the foundations for a government. Not all the members were named for security reasons.

The first Council had 32 members representing various regions and cities. Mustafa Abdul Jalil was elected Chairman. A judge from al Baida, he was Justice Minister under Gaddafi but resigned after the Benghazi uprising began. As Chairman of the Council, he had a price on his head believed to be 500,000 Libyan Dinars.

Dr. Mohammed Jebril el Warfally, and Ali Aziz el Esawi, the former Libyan ambassador to India and a sometime minister for the economy, trade and investment were made responsible for foreign affairs. Both these men would be ineligible for office if the new political isolation law is exercised without care.

Mohammed Jibril played a key role in the negotiations to achieve French support for military intervention on the side of the National Transition Council. It will be remembered that on 5th March 2011 President Sarkozy issued a press release, in which he welcomed the formation of the Interim National Council. This was the Council’s first sign of legitimacy. With Gaddafi’s heavily armed forces threatening Benghazi this news brought hope and a number of French flags sprouted around the besieged city. What Sarkosy now needed was the approval of President Obama and a mandate from the United Nations.

By the following Thursday, National Transition Councillor Mohammed Jebril was in Sarkozy’s office in the Elysee Palace and an agreement of considerable importance was reached. Sarkozy agreed to recognise the National Transitional Council as the legitimate government of Libya. Sarkozy also agreed implement a ‘no fly zone’ and to bomb three key airfields in Libya, notably the one in the south used for receiving mercenaries from Chad and elsewhere.

US Secretary Hillary Clinton was in Paris at the time. Jebril later met her at her Paris hotel and persuaded her to back the National Transition Council.

On Thursday 17th March, resolution 1973 was put before the UN Security Council in New York, when France, Britain and the USA

were among the ten who voted in favour of the use of all necessary means to protect civilian lives in Libya.

Russia and China were amongst five nations which abstained. It was thus that the intervention of NATO in Libya’s civil war was assured. Qatar joined NATO on behalf of the Arab League. Jibril’s role in these negotiations is a matter of history and cannot be overlooked. Should Jebril be barred from public office?

THE PEOPLE FIGHT BACK

By Tuesday 7th May 2013 it became clear that Prime Minster Zedan had persuaded his defence minister to withdraw his resignation. This event seems to have given courage to those who supported the democratically elected government.(It was later to emerge that the Interior Minister had also resigned but D. Zedan has refused to accept it and, for a while, denied it in public.)

On Friday 10th May around 400 anti-Militia demonstrators gathered in Tripoli’s Algeria Square carrying placards in support of democratic government. There are some reports that a number of them were chanting slogans against, Sheik Hamid bin Kalifa al Thani the Emir of Qatar. This is disturbing as Qatar played an important part, alongside NATO, in the battle to depose Gaddafi.

The Islamic Wahabi sect is dominant in Qatar, as it is in her larger neighbour Saudi Arabia. It is possible that some Libyans believe that funds are being channelled from Qatar to the Salfists in Libya: social media sites have been full of such rumours for some time. The Qatar embassy in Tripoli was quick to state that there was no interference in Libyan affairs. It was my impression that an agreement had been reached between the Libyan government and Qatar that the latter would communicate with Libya via official channels.

It seems that 200 or so protesters left Algeria Square and began to march along the seafront road to the Foreign Ministry building. As they did so their numbers grew. From the testimony of one of the marchers it is clear that they were divided about the Political Isolation Law but united in their determination to see that democracy should not be high-jacked by armed militias. The angry and, by now, large crowd was successful in clearing the militia ‘guards’ from the Foreign Ministry and its grounds. The Ministry (and the Justice Ministry) is now back in business after a two-week siege.

QATAR WAS THE MAIN TARGET OF A DEMONSTRATION IN BENGHAZI. THE FLAG OF THE OLD SENUSSI EMIRATE OF CYRENIACA APPEARED ON THE STREETS.

On 10th May a demonstration outside the Tebesti Hotel in Benghazi was interesting because an effigy of Emir Sheikh Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani was burned. Benghazi is a troubled city where the US ambassador Stevens was killed in an attack on his consulate and over 20 senior military, air force and police officers have been killed. Many suspect the Salafist militia Ansar Sharia of complicity in these killings.

Rumours that Qatar may be funding Salafist have recently been circulating via social media. One hypothesis is that the Wahabi of Qatar and the Ansar Sharia militia of Derna both have Salafist leanings and there may be unofficial back channels between them.

One intriguing aspect of the Benghazi demonstration was the appearance of the black flag of the old Senussi Emirate of Cyrenaica, which was founded in 1949 during the British occupation of Eastern Libya. It has been adopted by the ‘Federalist’ movement, prominent in Eastern Libya, which looks for the reintroduction of the three provinces, Tripolitania, the Fezzan and Cyrenaica. That they may envisage a separate state of Cyrenaica in which most of Libya’s oil and water is found must have raised the anxiety level of the Zidan government. A parallel is found in the Scottish Nationalist Party which is endeavouring to gain independence for Scotland and sequestering the income from North Sea Oil.

The febrile situation in Benghazi was made worse by a large explosion in the car park of al Jalaa hospital on 13th May. Three were killed and many injured. This sparked a street protest blaming the Islamist Ansar Sharia of Derna and demanding more action by the army to restore a semblance of quiet. The interior Minister has been dispatched to Benghazi to lead an investigation and attempt to supply better security for the citizens.

LIBYAN CHIEF OF STAFF UNDER PRESSURE TO QUIT

Those of us who are anxious to see Libya succeed are also watching, with some trepidation, the plots and manoeuvres going on around the current leadership of the Libyan armed forces. Libya needs its army. The remote southern region has been declared a military zone and Chad and Niger have complained to the Libyan government about Islamic extremist gangs finding refuge there. At the moment the army is outgunned by the militias.

The General National Congress voted on 5th May to consider appointing a new Chief of Staff in a month’s time. According to GNC spokesman Omar Hemidan this was because of the poor performance in rebuilding the army by the current Chief of Staff, Major-General Yousef al-Mangoush.

The Libya Herald reports that ‘the Major General faces opposition from officers of the new national army, especially in Benghazi and other eastern regions. Though government officials continue to express confidence in al-Mangoush, a recent conference in al-Burayqah saw army officers, militia leaders and civilian leaders call for the chief-of-staff’s immediate dismissal and an investigation into missing funds issued to the Libyan Army’s General Staff. One of the groups represented at the conference was composed of current and former army officers who have organized under the name “Free Libyan Army Officers Assemblage.” The group has called for the elimination of the Libyan Army’s General Staff and its replacement with an ‘independent body of qualified personnel’.

Update 26th May 2013. The destabilisation of the Libyan military has repercussions. Without a strong and well organised army Libya’s remote southern regions are impossible to control. It has been suggested that Mokhtar ben  Mokhtar, the man thought to have been responsible for the attack on the BP facility in southern Algeria, has established a base in Libya from  whence he dispatched an attack Niger. Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou has claimed that that suicide bombers who carried out the two deadly attacks in the north of the country had come from Libya

THE PRESIDENT OF THE GENERAL NATIONAL CONGRESS MAY RESIGN (Update 22nd May 2013)

There are indications that the GNC President, Mohamed Magarief, may resign on 28th May. The Political Isolation Law would seem to bar him from holding high office as he was a Libyan ambassador to India during the Gaddafi regime. He broke with Gaddafi and joined the opposition in 1980.

Update 29th May 2013. Mohamed Magarief resigned as President of the GNC yesterday after an eloquent speech. It seems that he retains his seat in Congress and it will be interesting to see what becomes of him. He spent many years of his life in exile from Libya as an opponent of the Gaddafi regime.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:

The Political Isolation Law has yet to be scrutinised by the legal arm of the GNC. It will be interesting to see how it emerges for final ratification.

The future of Major General Mangoush will be interesting. The Zedan government has expressed its support for him but he is perceived as being too slow to build up the army and absorb the armed militias into its fold. The development of the ‘Free Libyan Army Officers Assemblage’ needs watching.

Update 10t June 2013
A terrible incident in Benghazi when around 200 protesters were apparently fired upon by Libya Shield militia has resulted in at least 27 fatalities and the resignation of Major General Mangoush. His position as Chief of Staff has been less than secure of for some time. The Benghazi incident is complex and needs more attention so I have appended a link to the Libya Herald report for readers who wish to keep up to date.
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/06/09/mangoush-resigns/

The drafting of a constitution for Libya will be difficult as the Salafist are ruthless and will try to insist on a theocratic government. Also Adel al Gharayani and his ‘Supreme Council of Libyan Revolutionaries’ may be emboldened to intervene and intimidate the GNC again. I take the liberty of adding this piece from The Libya Herald by Ahmed Elumami. dated Tripoli, 21 May 2013.

Finishing touches are being put to the draft law on the elections for the “Commission of 60” which will draw up the new constitution.  It should be ready for submission to Congress next week according to Constitution Election Committee member Wissam Suqair. The Committee was set up on 10 April under the chairmanship of Benghazi Congressman Suleiman Zubi andt given 45 days to submit its proposals to Congress. That gives it until Saturday.

According to Shaban Abu Seta, one of the three congressmen on the committee, the draft is ready but there are some details to be ironed out regarding seats allocations for women and other groups.

The Commission will be elected on the basis of 20 members each from Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan – Libya’s historic regions – and deliberately follows the structure of the Commission of 60 that drew up Libya’s 1951 independence constitution.

The emergence on the streets of Benghazi of Federalists and their black flag may be a flash in the pan but is none the less interesting. In this context it is important to read part of a report in Al Jazeera dated 8th May 2013:

‘The growing tension between the groups and the government has alarmed federalists and other factions in the east, prompting their leaders to unite to defend their territory from a similar assault. Representatives from these groups pledged on Saturday to revive the Cyrenaica Congress. Formed about a year ago to demand greater autonomy for the east, it sets out a manifesto for a federal Libya.

“We will not let Cyrenaica be ruled by the power of force,” said Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi, a distant relative of King Idris, who was deposed in a military coup led by Gaddafi in 1969.

Senussi will remain the symbolic head of the congress. In addition to selecting a head and combining military forces, the leaders moved to start a television channel for the region. The eastern congress agreed to start work on June 1, when it will hold its first assembly in the city of Al Baida. For about 10 years after Libya became an independent state in 1951, the country was run along federal lines with three regions. Power was devolved to Cyrenaica, to the southern province of Fezzan and to Tripolitania in the west.’
Update 9th June 2013
Reports of a very serious incident in Benghazi in the Libya Herald today will need further thought. It seems that the Libya Shield militia was involved in fighting with 200 or so protestors who may have had a number of federalists amongst them but there may have ben others involved.

See this report from Benghazi
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/06/09/benghazi-libya-shield-protests-at-least-27-dead/
….and these interesting pieces on the failure of the army to establish control over the militias;
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/world/africa/libyan-violence-threatens-to-undercut-power-of-militias.html?ref=opinion
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/opinion/libya-doesnt-need-more-militias.html?_r=0

The independence and integrity of the ‘High Committee to Implement the Criteria for Occupying Public Positions’ will be particularly interesting. The mistakes made in the Iraqi de Ba’athification Council are only too obvious in hindsight.

Read the ‘Political Isolation Law’ in full here:

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/05/14/political-isolation-law-the-full-text/

Update 26th June 2013

Note – A new Congressional President elected……

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/06/25/nuri-ali-abu-sahmain-elected-congress-president/

Update 30th July 2013

This small piece in Al Jazeera sums up the situation in LIbya at the end of July.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/07/2013729163050948443.html

JOHN OAKES

For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

WILL PRESIDENT OBAMA BE FORCED INTO A ‘SHOW OF STRENGTH’ IN LIBYA?

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As President Obama strives for re-election, pressures may be mounting on him to strike at those who killed the US ambassador and his colleagues in Benghazi on 11th September. The process of identifying and selecting the possible assassins in Libya is well advanced. The President’s reactions in this matter will be guided by public opinion at home as well as by strategic imperatives. To allow the killer of one of his ambassadors to go unpunished will have both domestic and international repercussions. Whatever the outcome, the killing of Ambassador Stevens will change the way US diplomats conduct their business abroad and security considerations will limit their effectiveness.
There is no shortage of those who suggest that the USA has lost influence in Africa as a result of President Obama’s weakness. There are indications, for example, that the Egyptian army is ‘retiring’ many officers suspected of being too close to the USA. The al Qaeda led destabilisation of Mali is likely to affect Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. The tension between the Muslim north and the Christian south of Nigeria will open up many opportunities for the promoters of violence, notably the al Qaeda franchise Boko Haram.
The US policy in Libya must be seen in the wider context. ‘Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’, now in de facto control of much of Mali, has been seeking a foothold in Libya and has found friends in the Salafist ‘Ansar al Sharia’ militia brigade in Benghazi and Derna. The US has long been interested in Derna, the seaport some miles to the east of Benghazi, where a number of young men were recruited to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan and some have been returned to Libya by way of Guantanamo.
One Derna resident in particular has a most interesting profile according to Wikileaks. He is Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda Bin Qumu who was a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay for six years. He was a member of the ‘Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’ and later trained in an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and fought there as a commander of Arab volunteers. When in 2007 the Guantanamo Bay issue became and embarrassment to the Obama administration Bin Qumu was released and returned to Libya where the Gadaffi regime agreed to keep him in prison. However, in 2010 he was released from the notorious Abu Salim jail as part of an amnesty for anti-regime prisoners. He is one of founders of the ‘Ansar al Sharia’ militia in Derna and Benghazi and it is this group which is suspected of the attack on the US embassy on 11th September. A 30,000 strong street protest in Benghazi led to the disbandment of ‘Ansar al Sharia’ but there have recently been a series armed attacks in Benghazi which indicate that many militiamen have gone to ground, taking their arms and ammunition with them.
The investigation which followed the killings on 11th September is not yet complete but an interesting hypothesis is developing along the following lines. Soon after the civil war in Libya got underway the US established a CIA post in an annex near the US embassy in Benghazi. From here signals traffic between Libyan suspects and al Qaeda units were monitored. It is probable that the location and function of this annex became known to the Ansar al Sharia militia. It is also supposed, on good grounds, that this militia was recruited by ‘Al Qaeda in the Arab Maghreb’.
It is argued that ‘Ansar al Sharia’ made a plan to attack the embassy and the annex which were surrounded by high walls and guarded by some US security specialists and some locally employed contract personnel. The plan was left ‘on the vine’ to await an opportune moment for its execution.
That came on 11th September when angry crowds demonstrated outside the US embassy against a now notorious and ill-conceived anti-Islamic video. Ambassador Stevens was also visiting the embassy on 11th September, apparently to interview a Lebanese contractor. Did Ansar al Sharia have foreknowledge of the ambassador’s presence in Benghazi?
When the protest started outside the embassy ‘Ansar al Sharia’ militiamen launched their attack. They were appropriately armed and used mortars to lob bombs over the high walls. The nature of the attack in which weapons were used skilfully means that experienced fighters were involved. It was well planned operation which took the form of two assaults, the first on the embassy and the second on the so called annex situated about half a mile distant.
US drones launched above Benghazi and Derna soon after the attack picked up telecoms between ‘Ansar al Sharia’ operatives in Benghazi and known al Qaeda units. It is, therefore, likely that the attackers were linked with ‘Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’. Among the American personnel evacuated from Benghazi after the attack were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors whose presence may have been betrayed to ‘Ansar al Sharia’. There are few foreigners in Benghazi at the moment and the presence of so many Americans must have been obvious. It is has always been a city where news spreads rapidly by word of mouth. Unless the US personnel lived without locally employed domestic servants their lives would have been subject to the closest scrutiny.
President Obama will have a number of options to consider. He has, however, made it clear that the US will punish the killer of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues. What will he do?

LIBYA – A GOOD START IN THE VOLUNTARY SURRENDER OF ARMS AND AMMUNITION

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There has been some success with the planned weapons amnesty in Benghazi. On Saturday and today Tahir Square has been the venue for citizens to hand over arms and ammunition to the Libyan National Army. At a similar event in Tripoli’s Martyrs Square two tanks were handed in by the Triq Asour militia brigade.
The hope is that the amnesty will be expanded to other parts of the country. It may not be as readily accepted in Libya’s third city, Misurata, where a large number of militia brigades have become deeply entrenched. The Misuratans are wary of their neighbours, the Warfella tribal confederation based in Beni Walid, and may be reluctant to believe that the National Army will be capable of keeping the peace. Many members of the Warfella federation held out for Gaddafi until the last days of the civil war. They are suspected by many of being pro-Gadaffi still. The Misuratans may feel that the Libyan National Army is still tainted by ‘Gadaffism’ and will favour the Warfella.
In the eastern sea port of Derna, Salafist militias are in power at the moment but may not be popular. The prominent families in Derna are unlikely to live with the situation for too long but may still feel powerless. The Libyan Navy has recently stationed a warship there. It may help to tilt the balance of power in favour of ordinary citizens. In the meantime there are known to be a number of radical Islamists in town.
In the Jebel Nefusa, the mountain range south west of Tripoli, there were serious clashes in June between a Zintan militia and the Mashasha tribe. More than 100 people were killed and several thousand displaced. This area will remain tense for some time.
In Kufra in the south east the long standing differences between the Sway tribe and the Tebu minority is still simmering and neither party is likely to hand in its weapons. This is a region troubled by arms, drug and people smuggling.
The successes in Tripoli and Benghazi must be heartening for ordinary Libyans. Many are stating openly that the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi was the catalyst which started a reaction against heavy handed militias. If that is so, Ambassador Stevens will not have died in vain.

LIBYA – WAS PRESIDENT OBAMA’S INTERVENTION IN LIBYA’S CIVIL WAR BELATED?

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Janet Daley, writing in the British ‘Sunday Telegraph’ today, appears to argue that the anti-American violence in the Islamic world is a by-product of President Obama’s Middle East policy. She states that: ‘He [Obama] retreated dramatically from confrontation in the Middle East: so much so that when the opportunity arose to remove the tyrant Gaddafi from power, he would offer only belated back-up to an Anglo-French initiative. (This did not, of course, prevent him taking credit, after the fact, for liberating the people of Libya from their oppression.)’
It is likely that he was wary of intervention for a number of reasons. As the events in Libya were unfolding I was writing my book ‘Libya – The History of Gadaffi’s Pariah State’ and said this therein: ‘The French and British governments had been working hard to construct a consensus in favour of military intervention on the good and clear evidence that Gaddafi was murdering civilians. President Sarkozy of France was taking the lead, perhaps to boost his popularity ratings which had slipped alarmingly. The Arab League was in favour of intervention since a number of its members were less than happy with Gaddafi, though their contribution was unlikely to extend further than diplomatic manoeuvring.
The USA was wary. The CIA had been concerned for some time about the uncomfortable presence of Libyan jihadists in Derna and Benghazi, who had been involved in the Afghan war. Libya watchers, and there must have been some in the CIA, MI6 and elsewhere, will not have forgotten the Islamic fundamentalist violence in the Gebel Akhdar (Green Highlands) of Cyrenaica – now called East Libya – between 1995 and 1998. The violence was fomented and largely controlled by ‘The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’. It was ruthlessly suppressed by Gaddafi using the Libya Air Force, though the aircraft that did the strafing and bombing were flown by Cubans and Serbs.’
In my blog of 13th September 2012 (LIBYA – HOW THE LIBYAN INTERIM NATIONAL COUNCIL ASKED FOR NATO’S HELP IN MARCH 2011) I explained how President Sarkozy opened a ‘back channel’ with the anti-Gadaffi leadership in Benghazi and recognised it as the legitimate government of Libya thus pre-empting others. I also showed that Hilary Clinton was sufficiently impressed by the arguments raised by Sarkozy and Jebril [see my 13th September blog] that she saw to it that UN security Council Resolution 1973 was approved, permitting intervention against Gaddafi. I also noted the Sarkozy’s foreign minister was excluded from the consultations and that German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. was not in favour of intervention. It might be said that Sarkozy’s actions were partly motivated by a need to improve his popularity ratings.
Despite the lack of unity amongst Europeans and the anxiety about al Qaida franchises in Libya Obama authorised his forces to act. On 19th March 2011, Tomahawk missiles fired from US and UK navy vessels hit air defences around Tripoli and Misurata and French jets attacked Gaddafi’s armour near Benghazi. The city was saved but just in time. Tanks were in its western approaches and Gaddafi’s snipers were firing from buildings very close to the rebel headquarters in the court house. It would be as well to remember that President Obama, for a number of reasons no doubt, offered crucial but limited assistance and required NATO to assume command of the No Fly Zone.’
So Janet Daley is nearly right but her neat change of emphasis makes Obama sound weak. She states that Obama offered belated back-up. I argue that he offered timely back-up but he had good reason to be cautious. An al Qaida franchise may have been embedded in Libya.
This appeared in the Libya Herald online toady: ‘Questions are being asked both in the US and in Libya whether there is an Al-Qaida link [to the killing of the US ambassador to Libya and some of his colleagues]. It is being suggested that the Omar Abdul Rahman Brigade, which supports al-Qaida, was behind the attack. National Congress Speaker Mohamed Magarief himself has already indicated that it is not coincidental that that attack took place on the anniversary of al-Qaida’s 9/11 attacks on the US.’