Western-backed Turmoil in Libya

US strongman aims to stay in power by directing oil contracts to his handlers
Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Ayman Ahmed

Sha'ban 25, 1440 2019-05-01

News & Analysis

by Ayman Ahmed (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 48, No. 3, Sha'ban, 1440)

Since the public lynching of Muammar al-Qadhdhafi in October 2011, Libya has not seen peace. Western-backed terrorists, applauded by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, lynched al-Qadhdhafi. “We came, we saw, he died,” said the former US presidential contender with a satisfying chuckle.

For nearly eight years, Libyans have lived in absolute fear for their lives. The recent escalation in violence is part of the ongoing Western-backed mayhem resulting in mass slaughter. More than a thousand people have been killed in recent violence.

While publicly denying any direct role in General Khalifah Haftar’s assault on Tripoli where a UN-backed government is in power, Western regimes have continued to instigate violence. US President Donald Trump spoke to Haftar on April 15, according to a White House press release on April 19.

Quoting the White House handout, CNN reported that Trump “recognized Field Marshal [sic] Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.”

Terrorism is one of the tools the West uses to advance its agenda. It creates and supports terrorist outfits and then uses their presence as a pretext to attack other countries. Syria and Iraq both offer ready examples. Libya lies in shambles because of the West’s illegal war on the country. If foreign interference were to end, the level of violence would go down considerably even if it won’t end completely.

Libya’s oil wealth is what the West covets and was the primary reason for al-Qadhdhafi’s removal from power and public lynching. If tens of thousands of Libyans die in the process, so be it. Their lives do not matter.

Haftar is a thug but Trump likes him. It is revealing that when his forces erupted from Benghazi, the eastern part of Libya where his Libya National Army (LNA) is ensconced, and launched his assault on Tripoli at the beginning of last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “We have made clear that we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital.” Pompeo of course was lying.

A day before the Trump-Haftar phone conversation on April 15, Haftar had visited Cairo to meet General ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, that other thug on the Nile. No doubt, al-Sisi communicated to Haftar that Washington supports his assault on Tripoli provided he finishes the job quickly. This may prove difficult, although that has not deterred regimes like those in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from providing military and financial support to Haftar. Egypt, too is supplying him weapons.

There is the UN-backed and approved government in Tripoli, Hukumah al-Wifaqal-Watani (Government of National Accord – GNA) headed by Prime Minister Fayiz al-Sarraj. It assumed power in January 2016 following UN-brokered talks in December 2015. The GNA has failed to establish its writ in the rest of the country that is in the grip of rival militias rampaging and terrorizing people.

Fighting in Libya has caused massive suffering to the people forcing them to flee. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Europe but the xenophobic Europeans do not want them. European regimes attack countries causing mayhem and destruction but they are not willing to bear the consequences of their illegal actions.

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and warlord-cum-General Khalifah Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), attend a press conference after talks about easing tensions in Libya, near Paris, on 7-25-2017. It was France’s embrace of Haftar that has given the latter political and military legitimacy, made him more acceptable on the international stage, and emboldened him in his military campaign to lay siege to Tripoli and displace the GNA. The French energy company Total substantially raised its presence in the Libyan energy market with the purchase of a 16.33% stake in Libya’s al-Wahah concessions from US Marathon Oil for $450 million. The deal is expected to give Total access to major oil reserves with immediate production and a significant exploration potential as well. For Haftar’s pledge to secure Libyan fossil fuel resources for exploitation by Western corporations, US President Trump “recognized… Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and… discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.”

While al-Qadhdhafi was a dictator and given to eccentric behavior, he had warned that if he were removed from power, it would unleash terrorist groups and result in refugees flooding into Europe. His warnings have come true.

Not only has Libya been engulfed in turmoil, weapons stolen from military bases were smuggled into Syria to cause mayhem there as well. After nearly eight years of bloodshed, Syria with the help of its allies has gradually defeated the mercenaries and other assorted terrorist groups. Today, much of Syria has been cleansed of the terrorists and refugees are returning to their homes.

Libya unfortunately has had no such luck. In the absence of a strong central authority, it is open to external manipulation. Enter Haftar, the West’s favorite strongman. Despite the UN-backed GNA in Tripoli, its failure to extend control beyond Tripoli has allowed militias to proliferate. The West does not care about them but the rampaging militias have forced hundreds of thousands of Libyans to flee across the Mediterranean to Europe. This is what the Europeans do not want. They only want Libya’s oil and that can be accessed if there is a strongman to enforce his writ.

Two countries in particular are in the forefront of vying for Libyan oil — Italy and France — with the US closely behind. That explains why the US withdrew its military contingent from Tripoli on April 7, just three days after the LNA erupted from Benghazi and moved westward toward Tripoli. The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said US troops were “relocated” due to a “response to security conditions on the ground.” Haftar rightly interpreted this as a green light to continue his assault without fear of being confronted by Western powers. This is crucial for his survival. Officials from Europe and the US have visited him in Benghazi, blessing his occupation of eastern Libya.

There are other players as well such as Qatar and Turkey. They together with Italy support GNA-allied militias, particularly in Misrata, east of the capital. For Italy, the stakes are high both because of the flow of refugees from western Libya, and more crucially, because of Italy’s energy giant Eni’s oil and gas projects.

Will Haftar succeed in establishing his writ over the country and establish peace? He may be able to wrest control of Tripoli from the GNA but restoring peace is a tall order. Libya is deeply divided along tribal lines. Unlike the luckless al-Qadhdhafi, Haftar has shown little ability to balance their competing demands. It would be premature to expect peace and security in Libya yet.

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