Libya: Something To Die For

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November 6, 2015:   For all the heavily armed militias and fierce rivalries, there has not been a lot of violence in 2015. There is a lot of shooting and firing of rockets, but this stuff mostly misses. There are about fifty deaths a month because of terrorist attacks or militia fighting and about two hundred wounded. Most of the casualties are caused by the few thousand armed men belonging to ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). These extreme (even by Islamic terrorist standards) fanatics fight other militias as well as attacking civilians they do not control (as punishment for doing something that violates their strict lifestyle rules). ISIL will also murder non-Moslems and captives from other militias and post videos on the Internet. ISIL has been responsible for most (73 percent) of the 37 suicide bombings carried out in Libya this year.

While most militias now mainly operate as local defense forces ISIL exists to punish people who don’t agree with them. ISIL attracts the more fanatic men from other militias and has concentrated this evil in a few places (Sirte, Derna and Benghazi) and wherever ISIL is it is under attack by local militias. Largely because of the ISIL terror there has been a record (over 400,000) of civilians fleeing their homes this year. ISIL has caused most of its mayhem against civilians in Sirte, which it controls large portions of. In Derna and Benghazi ISIL is under a lot more pressure from capable militias determined to drive the Islamic extremists out of the area or kill them all.

There are dozens of other Islamic terrorist militias in the country that are relatively peaceful, mainly because these groups serve as training centers for international terrorists. It is groups like this that worry the West the most because some of these trained terrorists try to carry out attacks in the West. Few graduates of these terrorist schools have the language or other skills for this and instead go to another Moslem country to kill and maim for Allah.

Another things that annoys most Libyans is the lack of unity among the Islamic terrorist groups, each of whom considers themselves the anointed (by God) leader of an Islamic renaissance. This is a common pattern and the resulting feuds and outright wars between Islamic terrorist factions is a major reason why these groups rarely achieve much success. Too many of these Islamic terror groups are willing to interfere with, or even ban, free food sent in by foreign aid groups. Thus the locals see these holy warriors sending Libya straight to hell on earth. Militias affiliated with ISIL are generally opposed to any peace deal that does not involve everyone agreeing to ISIL ruling all of Libya. Most other Islamic terror groups are at least open to negotiations and some kind of deal.

The violence since 2011 has left over 32,000 dead and over a third of the population has fled the country, most of them to neighboring Tunisia. The people most likely to leave are the educated and talented Libyans the country needs most. This has made it difficult for the Tripoli and Tobruk governments to find qualified people to fill senior posts. It has gotten so bad that the prime minister of the Tobruk government complains of being forced to serve and not being allowed (by the military) to leave Libya, even for official business.

That mass flight was made easier because about 85 percent of Libya's six million people live along the coast. Some five percent are still nomadic. Other minorities comprise about six percent of the population. Nearly 100 percent of the population speaks at least some Arabic and 97 percent are Sunni Moslems. The Berber are Sunni but were never big on Islamic radicalism. Kaddafi saw the Berbers as a threat because they were not Arab and had, for over a thousand years, resisted Arab domination.

The UN wants the two governments to merge and then use their combined forces to deal with ISIL and other groups threatening the economy (especially oil shipments) and the country in general. The UN is unlikely to completely give up on Libya as peace efforts continue to fail and the two rival governments know it. The main motivation the two governments have to merge is the growing likelihood that there will soon be mass starvation and even more chaos, death and people fleeing the country. Libya is running out of cash and options but still has plenty of factions willing to risk more damage in an effort to get their way.

The UN thought it had a peace agreement in early October that proved overly optimistic. The year of peace talks were thought to have addressed all the problems that required agreement. All this effort was to have produced a final agreement. It did not. The UN is now demanding that the Tripoli government get its dissident factions under contr0l and agree to the terms for uniting the two governments or else. That has proved impossible because many of those factions are powerful local militias in the west who know there is no military power in Libya strong enough to force them to do anything.

Some NATO nations believe NATO should have sent in troops to disarm the militias after the Kaddafi government fell in 2011 (aided by months of NATO air support). But given the factionalism, extreme sense of entitlement and paranoia so common in Libya, foreign troops would have been greeted by Libyans offering more violence rather than gratitude and cooperation in forming a fair, democratic and efficient government. This is a common situation throughout the Arab world and few Arab states have been able to overcome these obstacles to peace and prosperity. Currently both the Tripoli and Tobruk government agree, in general, that a merger would be a good idea. But they cannot agree on a lot of details that mainly have to do with who will get what, or not.

For example consider the hostile attitude of many Tripoli factions towards the head of the Tobruk military (Khalifa Belgacem Hiftar) who the easterners believe intends to become another dictator like Kaddafi. This is absurd as while Hifar was once a general in Kaddai’s army he turned on Kaddafi in the late 1980s and was forced to flee the country. Hiftar became head of the Tobruk military in early 2015. Until then Hiftar was, technically, just another self-made warlord. Because he was a former Kaddafi general and long-time Kaddafi opponent Hiftar managed to create a coalition of tribal militias and army units in late 2013 and proved to be very effective fighting the Islamic terrorists in eastern Libya. Since early 2014 Hiftar has managed to get most of the post-Kaddafi armed forces under his control and backs Tobruk pleas for foreign assistance in obtaining more weapons and other military supplies. Hiftar has been very effective. He is a career military man and speaks with experience in these matters. One big advantage Hiftar has is that he takes care of his troops and uses tactics that minimize casualties among his forces. This makes Hiftar very popular with fighting groups he controls and makes it easier to attract new factions (usually tribal militias). At the same time these same qualities make Hiftar suspect in the eyes of many militia leaders, especially those in the west.

The fighting has interfered with oil exports and without that income the country is broke and literally dying. The Tobruk government is using its control of most oil export terminals to cut off oil income for the Tripoli government. This includes convincing customers for Libyan oil to send cash to the new Central Bank controlled by Tobruk rather than the original one in Tripoli (which is subject to pressure from the Tripoli militias). All this means less cash for Tripoli to pay government employees (especially militiamen) and import essentials (like food). The country needs peace so that the oil facilities, the central bank and the network of government offices that pay government employees and import goods for distribution to most Libyans can function more frequently and effectively. While not all Libyans support any one government or leader, most do support restoration of the Kaddafi era welfare system and the oil revenues that paid for it. This was an efficient way to distribute the oil income so that most Libyans benefitted from it. During the decades of Kaddafi rule Libyans became dependent on these benefits and are angry at anyone who is harming this system. The Islamic terrorist militias sense they are facing a real threat because of the widespread hostility they face from Libyans concerned about surviving without the oil income.

The country is running out of money with which to buy food and other essentials. Some 85 percent of the $67 billion the government has currently is frozen and the $10 billion that is available will be gone by mid-2016 if the two rival governments (UN recognized Tobruk and the previous one in Tripoli) do not agree to merge. About 40 percent of the four or five million people left in Libya are in danger of injury from the violence or lack of food and other supplies. Many of these people have been driven from the homes and some are living in tents. A growing number have given up and fled the country.

Oil production is still under 400,000 barrels a day, which is less than a quarter of the pre-revolution total of 1.6 million barrels. At current prices that would bring in $23 billion a year, enough for the country to survive on but not live as comfortably as they did when oil was selling for more than twice what it does now. The main problem now is militias hired to guard oil export terminals are shutting down more of these facilities in an effort to get more money for themselves. Since 2011 the violence has not hurt the oil fields and the oil reserves (still in the ground) stands at 77 billion barrels (plus the equivalent of ten percent more in the form of natural gas). Even if production returned to 2011 levels there would still be a problem with the price of oil, which has fallen by more than half since 2012 because of worldwide overproduction.

Meanwhile the neighbors are trying to contain the Islamic terrorist disease Libya is harboring. Tunish is building a border wall and imposing stricter screening at ports and airports. Egypt has done the same and sent thousands of additional troops to the border. The Algerian efforts have so far managed to protect Algeria from the Islamic terrorist threats in Mali and Libya. Algeria helped arrange a workable peace deal in Mali but has been unable to do the same in Libya. Instead Algeria has managed to seal its borders sufficiently to keep most Libya based Islamic terrorists out. Algerian security forces have managed to hunt down and destroy those that do get in.

November 1, 2015: Outside of Tripoli a local militia kidnapped several dozen Tunisians and demanded that the Tunisian government release a military leader caught committing an illegal act in Tunisia. This sort of thing has happened several times in the last month ago and that led to Tunisia pulling its diplomats out of Tripoli and warning its citizens to stay out of western Libya. The problem is that getting to safer parts of Libya means Tunisians have to travel through territory controlled by the Tripoli government and their unruly militias.

October 29, 2015: In the coastal city of Sirte (500 kilometers east of Tripoli and 560 kilometers west of Benghazi) unidentified warplanes bombed ISIL positions. There was a similar attack on the 19th. None of the eyewitnesses (there were many) could identify the nationality of the aircraft.

October 27, 2015: Outside of Tripoli someone shot down a helicopter carrying a dozen people, including some senor leaders of a powerful local militia.

October 23, 2015: In the east (Benghazi) someone fired mortar shells at a peaceful demonstration (against the UN sponsored peace talks). Six were killed and 35 wounded. No one took credit for the attack.

 

 

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