Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Posts Tagged ‘Tobruk

CHAD. ‘Will Chad, a sometime client state of Muammar Gaddafi, find itself once again a target for al Qaeda?’ Update 3rd March 2013

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Chad is one of a group of so called Sahel countries which include Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania having their northern Islamic provinces in the arid southern ‘shore’ of the Sahara. Their Christian and animist provinces lie in the richer, sub tropical regions. This split ethnicity and religiosity was manageable in French colonial times but is less so nowadays when the rise of militant Islamism threatens stability. Nigeria shares a similar problem stemming from the British colonial period.
In 2004 elements of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) entered Chad but were beaten off by Chadian forces. This group is now known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and was ejected by French forces in January 2013 from Gao and Timbuktu in Mali. Where will AQIM go next?
The English Cuckoo lays its egg in the nest of another species of bird which then proceeds to hatch the egg and raise the chick. Al Qaeda seeks out failed states and settles on them like cuckoos, imposing strict sharia law and creating terror and misery. Waziristan, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, Northern Nigeria and Mali are hosting substantial numbers of these ferocious extremists. Small but active al Qaeda franchises exist in the Philippines and Indonesia. There are those who argue that al Qaeda may have established a franchise in Benghazi and Derna in Eastern Libya.
As the French and the British direct their attention to the possible knock on effect of the crisis in Mali this post asks the question ‘will Chad, a sometime client state of Muammar Gaddafi, find itself once again a target for al Qaeda?’
The factors which attract al Qaeda seem to be a weak or remote central government, a weak national army, a weak and corrupt police force, intertribal strife, a safe haven in remote and rough terrain, access to criminal enterprises such as smuggling and capturing foreigners for ransom, poverty, neglect and native Salafist sympathisers.
The fall of a military dictatorship followed by political instability offers it a perfect nest in which to lay its parasitical egg. Will the Chadian president, Idriss Déby, survive in power now that Gaddafi has gone must now be a crucial question. The Tebesti Mountains of northern Chad and Sothern Libya may be particularly tempting for hardcore al Qaeda fighters seeking remote badlands in which to hide and thrive.
In 1960 Chad gained independence from France after sixty years of colonial rule. It is a vast, landlocked and ethnically diverse country in which the French failed to promote a sense of national unity. That is no surprise because there are a number of national cultures and religious affiliations, some of which have their roots in pre-colonial days. It follows that since independence Chad has suffered from deep religious and ethnic divisions. The struggle for power amongst the elites resulted in periods of armed rebellion and destructive civil war in which the meddlesome role of Gaddafi was notable.
In Chad there is the constant danger that the divide between the Arabised ‘Islamic’ north and the ‘Christian’ south will result in polarisation between the two, this inhibiting the formation of a democratic government and the sharing of resources. The government of Chad, which is formed from members of the northern and eastern Islamic groups, is becoming more Islamist in orientation. Chad, thus far, is a secular state, but the strengthening of Islam in public life and the friction between the faiths will threaten long term stability.
In Chad the use of armed force has been the means of establishing power. The current president, Idriss Déby, came to power by force of arms in 1990 and has since held on with the support of the national army which numbers around thirty thousand men. There is also Déby’s elite Republican Guard which is under his personal control and numbers around 5,500 personal. President Déby’s greatest external ally, France, maintains a military base there also. This last may be a lone guarantee of stability for Déby as things stand in the Sahel today.
AL Qaeda will have noted that the Tebesti region, bordering on Libya, is still an insecure area made the more unsafe by the large number of land mines laid by the Libyans when they occupied the Aozou Strip from 1973 to 1994. Chad has a unique position as it bridges sub Saharan and North Africa and also east and west Sahel. It also has long boarders with Sudan’s unstable and remote Darfur province and in the south with the troubled Central African Republic. Another hostage to fortune for Chad lurks in the north where its border with Libya lies somewhere within the Aozou Strip the ownership of which the two countries disputed violently between 1973 and 1994.
Muammar Gaddafi reigned in Libya for more that forty years during which he meddled too often in the affairs of his southern neighbour Chad. Gaddafi and President Idriss Déby of Chad were particularly close, a relationship with inevitable consequences for the future of the two countries. France has been Idriss Déby’s main source of external support during his twenty years reign but Libya was ally number two, financially and politically.
Libya has enough to do to establish a democratic government and recover from its recent civil war. The northern regions of Chad, previously totally dependent on trade with Libya, will take time to re-establish relations with a neighbour troubled by intertribal strife and lack of border control. Relations with Libya are made the more difficult because a large number of Chadians accused of being Gaddafi’s mercenaries remain incarcerated in jails maintained by Libya militias. There are persistent rumours that they are being tortured.
The instability which followed Gaddafi’s summary execution in his home town of Sirte on 29th October 2011 has affected the nations of the Sahel and catalysed the Tuareg rebellion in Northern Mali followed by the disastrous rise of an al Qaeda franchise. This undesirable outcome threatened the stability of not only Mali but also neighbouring Niger, the source of yellow cake uranium which supplies French nuclear power stations. If the domino effect is valid Chad, France’s other ex-colonial ally in the Sahel, was in line for an al Qaeda takeover bid. France was, therefore, forced to intervene when the al Qaeda become overconfident and threatened the Mali government in Bamako.
The mobility of the al Qaeda leadership can be in no doubt. The bad lands of the deep Sahara have long been traversed by the Tuareg and the Tebu, people for whom the artificial borders resulting from old colonial acquisitions have little meaning. They are able to traverse great arid regions which they know as well London Taxi drivers their own perplexing city. They share this talent with a number of Bedouin tribes who have traded across the Sahara from time immemorial. Thus it is possible for the al Qaeda franchises and the smuggling and the criminal bands to vanish into inhospitable and inaccessible country only reappear elsewhere to cause trouble. Rebellion and criminality is thus likely to pop up at any place in this vast arena to destabilise fragile economies and make refugees of hordes of people.
The French may dread the possibility of a successful coup against the Déby regime precipitated by the fall of Gaddafi and the instability in the Sahel region. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb must anticipate the possibility with increasing confidence.

Update 2nd March 2013

Al Qaeda leader probably killed by Chadian forces

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/algeria/9905145/Al-Qaeda-commander-behind-Algeria-gas-plant-attack-killed-in-Mali.html

Update 3rd March 2013
More on the possible killing of an al Qaeda leader by Chadian forces:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/algeria/9905870/Mokhtar-Belmokhtars-death-could-have-repercussions-for-French-hostages.html

LIBYA – THE OBEIDAT (A third post about Libyan tribes) UPDATED 12th March 2017.

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The 17th February 2011 revolt against Muammar Gaddafi hinged, to some extent, on tribal loyalties. Following his fall from power tribal loyalties are reasserting themselves. Whilst a great deal of attention has been focussed on the armed militias which are hijacking the Libyan democratic process the importance of tribal allegiance tends to be overlooked. This ‘post’ sets out to examine the role of the Obeidat tribe in the rebellion and its aftermath. Firstly, members of the Obeidat tribe identify themselves by adding al Obeidi to their name. There is a spelling problem. Obeidat is the current form but Obaydat, Abaydat,Abaidat or ‘Ubaydat are also correct and appear occasionally.

(The man who murdered 22 people and injured 59 others in Manchester on Monday 22nd May 2017 has been named as Salman Ramadan Abedi, a Mancunian of Libyan descent. It is very likley that Abedi is a corruption Abeid, a sub section of the Obeidat tribe originating from Derna.)

A young law student, Iman al-Obeidi, entered the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli on 26th March 2011 and found some members of the international press corps in the restaurant. She told them that she had been gang raped by Gaddafi’s soldiers who had arrested her on the Tripoli to Tajura road. Her story found its way on to international TV and the furore that ensued drew attention to the plight of rape victims in Libya and the brutality of Gaddafi’s loyalist. Iman was born in Tobruk, the port in Eastern Libya, where the late King Idris preferred to live quietly amongst the amongst loyal Obeidat tribesmen.

Also in February 2011 Maj. Gen. Suleiman Mahmud al-Obeidi, commander of the Tobruk military region, defected to the anti Gadaffi rebels along with the Tobruk military garrison. More significantly Staff Maj. Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis al-Obeidi, Gadaffi’s old friend and interior minister, announced his defection to the rebels on Al Arabiya television on 23rd February 2011. He became the front line commander of the rebel army but was murdered under strange circumstances on 29th July 2011.
The Obeidat tribe had opted to join the 17th February anti-Gaddafi rebel confederation based in Benghazi. Whilst acknowledging the role of personal ambition, I argue that both of these senior officers are very likely to have been under pressure from their tribe when they made their decisions. Both officers had clearly received assurances from their tribe that their actions on behalf of the Gaddafi regime would be forgotten; a not inconsiderable factor, especially in the case of a minister of the interior. As a result of their defection rifts occurred amongst the senior officers loyal to Gaddafi and his power began to crumble. Their defection also gave weight to the rebel claim for assistance from the NATO powers.
Maj. Gen. Suleiman Mahmud al-Obeidi’s defection secured for the rebels the port of Tobruk and the Marsa El Hariga oil terminal. Crude oil from Sarir field is pumped through a 400 km pipeline to the terminal which has three berths with a loading capacity of 8,000 tons/hour for tankers of up to 120,000 metric tons deadweight. (There was a loaded tanker in the port at the time of the major general’s defection and the oil it carried was sold with the aid of Qatar to help fund the rebellion.)
Al Obeidat is the largest tribe in East Libya and its homeland, its watan, is extensive, varied and often difficult. It stretches from the strategically important border with Egypt in the east to the highlands above Derna in the west and includes the key port of Tobruk. This was known as the Marmarica region of Eastern Libya.
During the 18th century it pushed the Awlad ‘Ali tribe out of Libya into Egypt’s western desert but cordial relations still exist between the two tribes though the Egyptian border has become unruly and arms and drug smuggling has increased alarmingly.
The Obeitat is a ‘Saadi’ tribe which traces its ancestry to the founding mother of the nine aristocratic tribes of Eastern Libya. In theory all the true members of the tribe own their territory by right and are, therefore, Hurr or free. Infact there are fifteen sub-tribes which have their own homelands and also their own sheiks. These sub-tribes tend to act independently and there are often disputes amongst them. When there is a major threat to the tribe as a whole they tend to act in unison but not always. This is the case for most of the Libyan tribes and that is one of the reasons it is difficult to govern the country. Other tribes that use the Obeidat territory do so as tenants. They are known as Marabtin or client tribes. There are a number of these client tribes, for example the Qat’an, the Taraki and the Huta, which use the Obiedat homeland on territory for which they have long ceased to pay a fee.

Another such is the Minifa tribe to which the Libyan hero Omar Mukhtar belonged.
Omar Mukhtar was a sheik of the Sufi Senussi order which was led by King Idris al Senussi. It formed a theocracy which knitted the tribes of Eastern Libya together. King Idris gave prominence to the Eastern tribes and the Obeidat was loyal to the Senussi order. Gaddafi destroyed the Senussi order along with the power of the nine Saadi tribes. These tribes will be looking to redress the balance of power in their favour, a factor for the new government to address soon.

John Oakes – 6th November 2012
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 10th November 2012

A very interesting development in the trial of those accused of murdering  Staff Maj. Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis al-Obeidi. See this:-

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/11/10/younis-murder-judge-orders-jalil-to-appear-in-benghazi-court/

Update 8th January 2013

The trial of a member of the Obeidat has just commenced in Tripoli and will be worth following:
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/07/court-cases-adjourned/

Update 9th January 2013
Some details of the killing of Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis al-Obeidi
http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2013/01/02/feature-02

Update 25th January 2013

The Benghazi ‘hit list’ has become world news. One senior officer assassinated in that city in September 2012 was a member of the Obeidat. Air Force Colonel Badr Khamis Al-Obedi was assassinated by unknown gunmen as he left the city’s Saida Aisha mosque after prayers.

Update 30th July 2013

The new Libya Chief of Staff has just been announced. He is Colonel Abdulsalam Jad Allah Al-Salheen Al-Obaidi.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/30/new-chief-of-staff-appointed/

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/31/new-chief-of-staff-promoted-then-sworn-in/

Update 30th October 2013

Another twist to the mystery surrounding the killing of Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis al-Obeidi:
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/10/29/two-killed-five-critically-injured-in-shooting-at-benghazi-protest/#axzz2jCRu70X3

LIBYA – WAS OMAR MUKHTAR OR T.E. LAWRENCE THE BEST GUERILLA LEADER?

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Yesterday was the anniversary of the execution of Libyan hero Omar Mukhtar. This is a short note in memoriam.
The Italian occupation of Libya, which commenced in 1911, entered an aggressive phase during Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Then Italians colonists launched a campaign of ‘re-conquest’. They began to pacify the defiant tribes with no little brutality.
Organised resistance by the tribes was impossible so they pursued a classical guerrilla war where Italian sentries were shot, supply columns ambushed, and communications interrupted. There was a succession of small actions and acts of sabotage in different parts of the country.
At first the Italians responded by courting the favour of those tribes, or parts of tribes, near the towns. By offering employment, subsidies and arms, they hoped to turn them against the rebels. In their minds there were two types of tribe, the sottomessi, that is the submitted, and the rebelli,
They thought they had gained the loyalty of the sottomessi to support them against the rebelli. They were to be constantly disappointed. The sottomessi supplied arms, ammunition, food, intelligence, shelter and funds to the rebelli. Sometimes the tribal sheiks would arrange amongst themselves who would submit and who would take the field.
To their consternation, the Italians had overlooked or misinterpreted, as many do, the powerful Bedouin law. The nine Sa’adi tribes of East Libya and their clients were all Bedouin, jealous of each other and hostile to tribes other than their own. The males of each tribe were duty-bound to avenge a slain kinsman. The group of males within the tribe who shoulder this collective responsibility is called the amara dam. The other side of this coin is the duty to protect and aid a living kinsman. This is at the root of Bedouin values. The common ancestry and the kinship of the Sa’adi tribes overrode the lesser demands. The tribes were united by blood, Islam and a common way of life against the Italians.
As the Italian proconsul Graziani wrote of the Second Senussi War. “The entire population thus took part directly or indirectly in the rebellion.” However the guerrilla war was led by some notable families who have received less attention than they deserve. They were the Abbar and the Kizzih of the Awaquir, the Saif al Nasr of the Aulad Suliman, the Bu Baker bu Hadduth of the Bara’asa, the Lataiwish of the Magharba, the Abdalla of the Abaidat, the Asbali of the Arafa, the Suwaikir and the Ilwani of the Abid and the Bu Khatara bu Halaiqua of the Hasa. The homelands of the tribes which these families led stretched from the desert south of the present city of Sirte to the Marmarica in the east around the city of Tobruk. All of this territory was ideal for guerrilla warfare.
The tribal leaders were formidable but they needed the coordinating hand of a leader. They found it in the person of Omar Mukhtar who brought not only his considerable energy and talents into the field but also the network of Senussi lodges and intelligent personnel stretched throughout the tribal homelands. The Islamic Senussi order had for a long time planted seminaries amongst the Bedouin tribes of Eastern Libya. They were staffed by a leader or sheik and a band of the Ikwan (brothers) who educated the young and gave religious and practical leadership.
In the Senussi sheik, Omar Mukhtar, they had a leader who, though he was was well gone in age, was an experienced soldier, a talented tactician with an almost unique ability to keep the peace between the fractious tribal detachments which he commanded, perhaps because of his Bedouin birth. His parents were members of a Minifa (Marabtin al-sadqan) tribe from the Marmarica. Between 1912 and 1931 he planned all the gruella operations, gathered and evaluated the intelligence, organised the logistics and finance and led a band of his own.
The Italians response grew more heavy handed as the war progressed. They found that the sottomessi were supplying the rebellei, so they commenced by disarming the non-combatant tribesmen. They went on to harsher methods to stop the flow of rebel volunteers, ammunition and weapons, money and food from the sottomessi. They used the well tried methods of arrests, restricting civilian movements, deportations, aerial bombardment and strafing of recalcitrant tribes. They blocked and poisoned desert wells, confiscated precious livestock and barbed wire was liberally strewn around to restrict the seasonal migrations. The rate of executions was alarming but it was in concentration camps that the sottomessi who were much depleted in health, morale and numbers.
They went after the Senussi lodges, destroying them and deporting their leaders. They captured Omar Mukhtar in September 1931 when he was ambushed near Baida. He was wounded in an arm. His horse was shot and pinned him to the ground. He was taken prisoner and tried in a hurry. The Italians made a spectacle of his final moments. He was hanged at a place called Suluq before an audience of 20,000 Libyans assembled there by their colonial masters. The rebellion was ended. A number of tribal leaders attempted to escape to Egypt.
The work of British WWI leader of the Arab Revolt against Turkish rule, T.E. Lawrence, is now studied by military personnel as the consummate strategist of guerrilla warfare. He was, first and foremost, an intellectual soldier. He wrote this in his ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’.‘Suppose we were an influence (as we might be), an idea, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile as a whole, firm-rooted, and nourished through long stems to the head, we might be a vapour, blowing where we listed. Our kingdoms lay in each man’s mind, as we wanted nothing material to live on, so perhaps we offered nothing material to the killing. It seemed a regular soldier might be helpless without a target. He would own the ground he sat on, and what he could poke his rifle at.’
Omar Mukhtar’s most formidable enemy the Italian proconsul Graziani wrote this: ‘[the situation was] like a poisoned organism which sets up at one point of the body, a poisoned bube. The bube in this case was the fighting band of Omar al Mukhtar, resulting from the entire infection,.. the entire population took part in the rebellion.’ Guerrilla warfare is most successful when these conditions prevail but in the end the Italians intimidated, decimated and bribed the population into submission. Omar Mukhtar was an octogenarian and still fighting when others of that age are hors de combat! There is a lesson in this for soldiers and geriatrics!

So was Omar Muhktar or T.E. Lawrence the best guerrilla leader?

Omar Mukhtar coordinated and led the Cyrenaican tribes in a guerrilla war against the Christian Italian occupiers of their homelands. The Italians had displaced the tribes from the more fertile regions in the Gebel Akhdar and replaced them with Italian colonists who were given plots of land on which on which to farm.
Whilst giving proper weight to the tribal leaders already mentioned above, it is clear that the overall strategy and coordination of the long and brutal battle to regain their land was exercised by one charismatic and talented man in the person of Omar Mukhtar. He was able to use the extensive network of Senussi Ikwan who were trusted by the tribal leaders.
It is clear that the Senussi leadership brought the tribes together in a battle against a common enemy but it must not be forgotten that the sense of kinship amongst the nine Sa’adi tribes of Cyrenaica was a major factor in keeping the revolt going. Nor should we forget that Omar Mukhtar was able lead a legitimate jihad against the Christian colonists. His rebellion was crushed and he was hanged before a crowd of 20,000 Libyans assembled by the Italians in September 1931.
To criticise T.E. Lawrence is unpopular, especially in Britain. He was elevated to hero status after the Great War for his role in the Arab Revolt against the Turks which supported the British and Commonwealth armies in the capture of Damascus in October 1917. Lawrence was, in fact, a British Liaison Officer attached to the Sherifan leader, Emir Feisal.
Lawrence was not the only British officer involved in the affair but he was notably influential, not least because he was the conduit through which the large British subsides reached the key players in the Arab Revolt. He was able to persuade the British to wager huge amounts of money on the Sherifan leadership of whom they knew very little.
After the war he gained what we now call ‘celebrity status’ as the ‘Uncrowned King of Arabia’ through the person of an American showman called Lowell Thomas who toured around the UK and USA with a slide show in which he portrayed Lawrence as a romantic hero. After World War One there was a deep need amongst the British to find an individual war hero to offset mass slaughter of trench warfare in which individuality was destroyed.

John Oakes (with thanks to the historian and anthropologist E.E. Evans-Pritchard)
Update 22nd January 2013
An Omar Mukhtar museum is planned for Benghazi according to the Libya Herald
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/21/omar-mukhtar-museum-for-benghazi/

Update 12th November 2014
It is reported that the statue of Omar Mukhtar has disappeared from Tripoli.