April 20, 2014
Libya on the Edge

Yohannan Chemarapally

LIBYA seems to be on the verge of imploding three years after the western imposed regime change. The interim government does not even have control of the capital Tripoli, if recent events are any indications. The parliament has been raided by militias. Political figures have been targeted for assassination. The international airport has been targeted with missiles and the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was briefly kidnapped. In the second week of March, he was forced to flee from the country after the government issued a warrant for his arrest. This was after he was dismissed from his post by the interim Libyan parliament, dominated by Islamist parties, on charges of incompetence and corruption. And the man who replaced him in the job last month, Abdullah al-Thani, also resigned in the second week of April, citing threats to his life and that of his immediate family. MILITIA: A LAW UNTO THEMSELVES Meanwhile, tribal militias and Al Qaeda affiliated groups are ruling the roost in other parts of the country. Militias of various political and tribal hues have their own jails and torture cells. Saif al Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader’s heir apparent, is in the custody of the Zintan militia. They are a law unto themselves and have refused to hand Saif al Gaddafi over either to the central government or to international authorities, so that he could be tried. And in late February, the government in the neighbouring Niger handed over another surviving son of the former ruler, Saadi Gaddafi, over to the Libyan government to stand trial. The government of Niger is no doubt aware of the chaos and lawlessness prevailing in the country. In February, an Indian doctor was killed in Derna, a stronghold of extremist groups. There are fears that Indian medical professionals numbering over 1600 may find it difficult to stay on. The Libyan healthcare system would collapse if there is an exodus of Indian doctors. On February 14, one of the leading CIA assets in Libya, Major General Khalifa Hifter, announced that he was carrying out a military takeover of the government. “The national command of the Libyan army is declaring a movement for a new road map” to save the country, Hifter declared. He grandiosely announced the suspension of the parliament. He claimed that he was replicating the path being taken by General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt. General Sisi had also announced “a new road map” for Egypt while staging his coup last July. The Libyan army, powerless as it is, did not respond to the call made by Hifter, a man with a seedy reputation. He was flown in by the Americans from his exile in the US, prior to the overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011. On January 18, a group of heavily armed men stormed an air force base outside the city of Sabha in southern Libya. They expelled forces loyal to the interim government. There are reports that in areas dominated by “black” Libyans in the south of the country, the green flag of the previous government is once again fluttering. Early this year, the deputy industry minister, Hassan al Drouie was assassinated in the city of Sirte, a stronghold of Gaddafi and one of the last cities to fall to the rebels and to the NATO. The situation today is so grim that the Libyan government had to issue an appeal in the third week of March to the international community for urgent help to “fight terrorism.” The appeal came in the wake of a series of suicide bombings and terror attacks in Benghazi and clashes with militias controlling oil refineries and ports. A US security official, Lt Col Andrew Wood, who led the elite US security force in Libya before the targeting of the American consulate in Benghazi and the killing of the US ambassador, has said that there were now more Al Qaeda fighters in the country than before. The American Congress was told that between ten and twenty thousand surface to air missiles are still unaccounted for. ARMA SPREAD TO ALL OVER AFRICA According to a recent UN report, sophisticated arms from Libya have reached insurgent groups all over the continent, including the Boko Haram which has for some time been causing mayhems in northern Nigeria. Many of the weapons from Libya were sent to Syrian rebel forces under the patronage of the Americans and the Gulf monarchies. The UN report has suggested that members of the Libyan armed forces are continuing to sell handguns in their inventories to civilians. Given the general breakdown of the law and order situation in the country, there is a great demand for such weapons. The UN report said that the security situation has “considerably deteriorated” and that incidents of “carjacking, robbery, kidnappings, tribal disputes, political assassinations, armed attacks and clashes, explosions from improvised explosive devices and demonstrations” have markedly increased. Oil exports have been sharply reduced, seriously impacting the economy. The oil exports of Libya have fallen from 1.5 million barrels a day in 2011 to 250,000 barrels today. The country is almost totally dependent on oil exports for survival. Hariga, the country largest centrally controlled oil terminal in the eastern region, is now under the control of armed militias, bent on secession. Even petrol for domestic consumption is now in short supply in the capital Tripoli. The capital has a population of more than two million, one third of the vast country’s population. The government accused “terrorist groups” of waging war against Benghazi, Sirte and other cities. The Libyan army, trained by western and Gulf Arab countries, is not up to the task of militarily confronting the well armed militias who are organised mainly on a tribal and regional basis. Washington has now decided to do hands on training of Libyan army troops. According to reports, the US has already begun preparations for a larger mission to train Libyan troops in Bulgaria. Around 500 soldiers from the US first infantry division will train around 8000 Libyan troops in basic combat skills as part of the larger NATO effort to improve security in the country. It was the inability of the government to stop the illegal export of oil that precipitated to exit of the Libyan prime minister. The military was unable to stop a tanker --- “the Morning Glory” --- carrying illegally purchased oil from the rebel controlled Es Sider port in Eastern Libya, from leaving its waters. Initially the tanker was described as being North Korean owned but it was actually contracted by a firm having its headquarters in Dubai. Two Israelis and a Senegalese were arrested by the police in Cyprus on charges of attempting to buy the cargo. Libyan naval ships destroyed by the NATO have not been replaced. The Libyan Air Force is rudderless after the dismissal of its chief. Most of the pilots refused to obey the government orders to interdict the rogue oil tanker. The ship was finally interdicted by the American navy and returned to the custody of the central government. US BRINGS LIBYA TO BRINK OF DIVISION The action against the ship has not gone down well with the powerful militia grouping led by Ibrahim Jathran, who was previously the army appointed head of the national oil protection force. Last year he had set up the Cyrenaica Political Bureau in defiance to the central government, demanding that the bulk of the oil revenues from his region be ploughed back for the benefit of the residents there. Libya was divided into three independent parts --- Tripolitana, Cyrenaica and Fezzan --- till it was colonised by Fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini. After the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, separatist feelings have once again resurfaced with a vengeance. Much of the oil produced in Libya comes from the eastern province of Cyrenaica. Jathran is claiming that at this juncture he is only fighting against the Muslim Brotherhood domination of politics in Tripoli. But his spokesman has said that if the Muslim Brotherhood’s policies lead to civil war, then the East “would be forced to become an independent state.” However, with the intervention of the American Navy on behalf of the central government in the incident involving the tanker carrying oil sold by the Cyrenaica Political Bureau, the rebel militias now have the western powers to openly contend with. The US ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, described the sale of oil by the Jathran led militia as “a theft from the Libyan people.” However, Jathran now has an ally of sorts in the ousted prime minister, Ali Zeidan. Speaking after his dramatic escape from Tripoli, Zeidan, handpicked by the West for a leadership role in post-Gaddafi Libya, blamed the Muslim Brotherhood dominated interim government in Tripoli for his tribulations. He accused the Islamists of wanting to “impose their will” on the country and described his dismissal as illegal. The powerful Zintan militia in the west of the country has rallied in support of the ousted prime minister. If they join with Jathran’s forces in the east, the central government is in real trouble facing the prospects of a total blockade on the export of oil from the West as well as the East. The central government now has aligned with a powerful group of militias from the south called the “Libya Shield” from the city of Misrata. They have been tasked with liberating the refineries and ports in the east that are under the control of Jathran and other militias supporting his bid for greater control over the oil and gas reserves produced in the region. The federalist forces in Cyrenaica, with their stronghold in Benghazi, are preparing for a showdown. There are reports suggesting that the militias in Benghazi are preparing for a unilateral declaration of independence for Cyrenaica. Rebel forces are hoping to get the support of the Libyan Air Force. Three air force bases had earlier supported the abortive coup by General Hifter.