Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

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LIBYAN TRIBES II – A TALE OF TWO SIEGES – MISURATA AND BANI WALID

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The Battle of Misurata between Gaddafi’s forces and the ‘17th February Rebels’ was bloody and brutal and lasted from 18th February to 15th May 2011. It is sometimes known as the Siege of Misurata during which the bombardment of the city with Grad missiles and artillery by the Gaddafi loyalist army left at least 2,000 rebels and civilians dead and 900 injuries resulting in loss of limbs. For much of the time Khamis Gadaffi conducted the siege on behalf of his father. The anti-Gaddafi rebel forces broke the siege with the aid of air and naval assistance from NATO and considerable support from Qatar.
The siege of Bani Walid by militia forces, mainly from Misurata but also including the Libya Shield Brigade, has been underway during October 2012. As I write it appears to be drawing to a close. Bani Walid is the desert stronghold of the Warfella tribe and was the last foothold of Gadaffi loyalists. It capitulated to the anti-Gaddafi forces 17th October 2011. Since that time the Bani Walid leadership has been at odds with the Misuratans who believe that Gaddafists have been given shelter in the town. It was these Gaddafists, they say, who captured and tortured a number of Misuratans, one of whom was Omran Shaban who died of wounds in their custody after a deal had been struck for his release. Omran Shaban was the Misuratan militiaman who found Col Gaddafi hiding from a NATO air strike in a storm drainage pipe in Sirte a year ago. The death of Omran Shaban was the flash point which launched the Misuratan militias on Bani Walid. They were supported by the new Libyan government and some militias from elsewhere. It is likely that 22 people were killed and 200 wounded in the fighting. The refugee problem was, and remains, acute. On 22nd October the International Committee of the Red Cross estimated that 25,000 people had fled the urban area.
News of the siege of Bani Walid reached the wider world and the USA and Russia exchanged diplomatic views in the United Nations Security Council and there are reports to the effect that the United States has blocked a draft statement, proposed by Russia, on the resolution of violence in Bani Walid.
There has been some speculation amongst international observers about the real reason for the Siege of Bani Walid. Many have missed a significant clue. When the Misuratan militiamen entered Bani Walid in October 2012 they fly posted walls with leaflets in memory of the historic Misuratan hero, Ramadan al Shtaiwi. This suggests that long standing enmity between the Misurata and the Warfella tribes is a prime factor.
Muammar Gaddafi’s policy of divide and rule amongst the tribes created a great deal of bottled up enmity. He showered cash and other inducements on the Warfella tribe to purchase its loyalty during the rebellion. The resentment of the Misuatans who were so brutally besieged is a not, therefore, unexpected. A statement made on 30th October by the currant Libyan Defence Minister, Osama Juwaili, to the effect that the head of the Libyan armed forces, General Yousef Mangoush, has no control over Bani Walid and refugees are being prevented from returning adds to the uneasy confusion felt by international observers.
A small excursion into Libya’s history and geography is necessary to understand the background to the siege and the significance of Ramadan Shtaiwi to the Misuratans. The modern road from Misurata to Ajadabia is built around the shores of the Gulf of Sirte which thrusts its way into the desert. If you look at the map, you can see that there are really two Gulfs of Site, the lesser and the greater. The map makes them look like two successive mouthfuls taken out of the north coast of Libya. The arid and remote hinterland of the Gulf of Sirte, the Sirtica, is the homeland of some notable tribes such as the Warfella, the Aulad Bu Saif, the Al Gaddadfa, the Aulad Suleiman and the Al Magharba.
Almost exactly a century ago the Italians decided to seize the Ottoman province of Libya and colonise it themselves. They captured Tripoli with relative ease but found it much harder to quell the Libyan tribes of the interior. One of the great obstacles to their advance was the tribes of the Sirtica. In order to reach this inhospitable place it was, and still is, necessary to pass through Misurata which is at the eastern end of the coastal oasis surrounding Tripoli.
The Italians attempted to take the Sirtica but the tribes, notably the Aulad bu Sief, soundly defeated them. As part of an Italian counter attack in April 1915 Colonel Miani entered the Sirtica from Misurata with a 4,000 strong Italian battle group. He was accompanied by 3,500 Libyans led by Ramadan al Shtaiwi, the wily war lord of Misurata.
Arab resistance to his advance, commanded by the Senussi leader Sayyid Saif al Din, was concentrated in the Sirtica. Sayyid Saif al Din had with him some of the Tripolitanian tribes, notably the Aulad bu Saif. The resident Sirtica tribes were also in arms against the Italians.
Col. Miani had seriously misjudged his so called ally, Ramadan al Shtaiwi and his 3,500 Libyans, who turned against him and helped Safi al Din’s tribal warriors to defeat the Italians at Qasr bu Hadi on 29th April 1915. As a result of this notable defeat, the Italians lost their own rifles and ammunition, plus a reserve of 5,000 rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition, several machine guns, and artillery with plenty of shells, the entire convoy of food supplies and even their bank. The Arab victory at Qasr bu Hadi has passed into Libyan tribal folk lore and is repeated from generation to generation.
The ancient feud between the Bedouin tribes of the Sirtica and the urban and coastal party in Tripoli and Misurata is probably reasserting itself. Ramadan al Shtaiwi emerges into history again. He defeated a group of Bedouin tribes led by the Senussis of Eastern Libya in a battle for power in the Sirtica on the outskirts of Bani Walid early in 1916. In the Siege of Bani Walid we may be witnessing a resurgence of an ancient feud. History has much to tell us but is too often forgotten.

LIBYA – KHAMIS GADDAFI IS REPORTED DEAD AGAIN. HOW MANY TIMES CAN HE DIE AND ARE THERE MORE GADDAFI LOYALISTS AT LARGE?

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The Libya Herald’s George Grant has been reporting brilliantly from the vicinity of the desert stronghold of the Warfella tribe, Bani Walid, where a number of militia forces from Misurata and others have mounted an attack. The militias have been shelling the hilltop town of 70,000 people for several days. It is likely that 22 people had been killed and 200 wounded in the fighting. The refugee problem is becoming acute. The Bani Walid Crisis Management Centre has claimed that almost 10,000 families have fled the fighting in total.

There are four main reasons for the attack. The Warfella tribe was highly favoured by Muammar Gaddafi and has long been at odds with the Misurata tribe,though both are part of the Berber Hawwara confederacy. Bani Walid was the last town to submit to anti Gadaffi forces during the late civil war (It submitted unwillingly on 17th October 2011). There have been indications that Gaddafists have been hiding in Bani Walid. The Misuratan hero, Omran Shaban, who found the fugitive Colonel Muammar Gadaffi sheltering from a NATO air strike in a storm drain in Sirte on 20th October 2011 has been incarcerated and later killed in Bani Walid without trial. Libya’s congress gave Bani Walid a deadline to hand his killers over. They were unable to do so.
Gaddafi’s youngest son, Khamis, was the ruthless, Russian trained commander of the formidable 32nd (Khamis) Brigade. This was a fanatically loyal, heavily armed, highly mobile and elite force maintained by the Gadaffi family independently of the National Army Command Structure. It was used extensively and unscrupulously in the battle for Misurata. It lost the battle and Khamis Gaddafi was said to have been killed on 29 August 2011 during a NATO airstrike. This was never confirmed.
Rumours have long been circulating that he was still alive and had gone to ground, probably in Bani Walid or possibly in neighbouring Tarhuna where Gaddafist sympathisers may also lurk. The rumours may have been proved correct. On 20th October 2012 it was reported that Khamis Gaddafi was wounded in a fire fight in Bani Walid and captured by Misuratan militiamen. He was, it was announced, being transported to Misurata when he died en route. News that he was dead spread quickly and was received with jubilation in Misurata and Tripoli.

Update 24th Octover 2012 -The fall of Bani Walid to Libyan government troops was announced today, 24th October 2012, along with the capture of a number of Khamis Brigade fighters who had been hiding in the town. A Libyan government spokesman apologised for the premature announcement of Khamis Gaddafi’s death. The Khamis Gaddafi legend lives on it seems.

The striking coincidence is that on 20th October 2011 the dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, was caught by a NATO air strike attempting to leave Sirte and subsequently executed in a summery fashion after being captured by Misuratan militiamen. Whilst his capture and his last living minutes were recorded his execution was not.
There has been plenty of speculation about Muammar Gadaffi’s death. One extreme view is that he was killed by NATO Special Forces to ensure that he would not reveal damaging information to try to save his skin. I suspect that he was shot in anger and in the heat of the moment but there are questions to be answered about how he was spotted and targeted.

As Michel Cousins, the editor of the Libya Herald wrote; ‘Khamis’s death occurred exactly a year after that of his father, the dictator who was captured, then killed, in Sirte. Given the mystery and conspiracy theories that have arisen about Gaddafi’s death, the fact that, like him, Khamis was captured by Misuratan forces and then died will certainly trigger a mass of allegations about his demise.’ Michel Cousins is right. Rumours arouse dangerous emotions. For example, even now Gadaafist sources are suggesting that the Misuratans are preparing to ‘fake’ Khamis Gaddaf’s death.

About 500 protesters broke into the grounds of Libya’s parliament building in Tripoli on Sunday to demand an end to violence in Bani Walid. They were said to be Tripoli residents with roots on Bani Walid. They were prevented from entering the building where the General National Congress was in session.The former Khamis Brigade base to the west of Tripoli was attacked last Saturday. It was later retaken by government forces from the Thunderbolt Battalion.  The attackers may have been from the Wirshefana  tribe seeking weapons or attempting to divert the armed forces from the attack on Bani Walid. Also on Saturday around 400 protesters stormed the offices of the Al Hurra television station in Benghazi after it announced the arrest of Gaddafi’s spokesman Moussa Ibrahim and the capture and death of Khamis Gaddafi.

Two of Gadaffi’s other sons are still the focus attention. Saif al Islam Gaddafi is incarnated about 85 miles south west of Tripoli in the Berber town of Zintan. The Libyan government has not been able to have him transported to Tripoli and nor is it yet able to bring him to trial. His brother, the ‘play boy’ Saadi Gadaffi, is under nominal house arrest in Niger. He has been seen with a coterie of ex Gaddafist army officers enjoying the high life in Niamey. The government of Niger appears to be reluctant to extradite him to Libya.

The killings in Benghazi of senior military officers and policemen who defected from the Gadaffi regime are still unsolved. Around 15 have been killed so far. Are the killers attempting to purge the army and police force of Gaddafists? There is another hypothesis which gains strength in the light of Khamis Gadaffi’s sojourn in Bani Walid. Are the Benghazi ‘hit list’ killers undercover Gaddafists who are attemting to eliminate those they consider traitors?