Libya: The UN Moves In Mysterious Ways

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November 23, 2015: The UN in has brought in a new mediator, partly in response to Tripoli government complaints that the previous mediator was biased in favor of the UN recognized Tobruk government. The new mediator, like the old one, is insisting that both Tripoli and Tobruk agree to the current peace deal (worked out over months of intense bargaining). Some factions in both governments oppose the current deal but the UN insists the existing deal is the best they will get. The UN also points out that signing (and carrying out) the peace deal will bring more foreign assistance, including military aid and greatly improve the prospects for economic growth and increasing oil exports. The current peace deal calls for the elected House of Representatives in Tobruk to be recognized as the main legislature. But a second elective body, the State Council, would have fewer powers than the House of Representatives but would initially contain many members of the current General National Congress in Tripoli. The peace deal also involves a lot of disarmament of militias and expansion of the current military, which is mainly under the control of the Tobruk government. The UN, and major donor nations, point out that failure of the two government to units (via the peace deal) condemns Libya to more chaos and suffering. But so far that has not swayed all the factions to agree. Eventually, but not yet, even with the growing threat from ISIL.

The General National Congress (or GNC) was formed to create a new constitution for the country to vote on and rule until that is done. Progress was slow and in late 2013 the GNC extended its power for another year. Elections were held in 2014 but the GNC did not like the composition of the new House of Representatives. The UN recognized the House of Representatives but most of the GNC members (who tended to be more tribal and religiously conservative) refused to give up power. The House of Representatives and the government it had formed fled to Tobruk and rallied most of eastern Libya behind them.

Oil exports are still only about 330,000 barrels a day, which is less than a quarter of the pre-revolution total of 1.6 million barrels. At current prices pre-2011 export volume would bring in 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 major buyers of Libyan oil have made it clear that they only want to deal with the original National Oil Company based in Tripoli. The Tobruk government has set up a rival oil company in an effort to pressure the Tripoli government to agree to a peace deal. This is not working, largely because of factionalism within the Tripoli coalition.

Then there’s the effort to increase oil production. The main problem is militias hired to guard oil export terminals are shutting down some of these facilities in an effort to get more money for themselves. There are similar problems with eleven oil fields. Since 2011 the violence has not done significant damage to 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. But most of Libya’s problems are internal, brought about by Libyans who will not work together even though it is in their best interests to do so.

The mess in Libya is not helped by the presence of ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant). ISIL has found Libya an excellent place to be. For one thing ISIL can finance its operations in Libya largely through people smuggling. This is a growth industry, going from practically nothing in 2011 to over thousand paying illegal migrants a day. This really began in 2013 when criminal gangs (often tribe or militia based) connected with Italian gangsters and organized the illegal movement of African and Middle Eastern illegal refugees to Europe via Libya. Kaddafi never tolerated this sort of thing, but Libya is, next to Morocco, the closest to Europe so the potential was always there. By the end of 2013 some 500 people a day were illegally crossing the southern border of Libya in an effort to make it to Europe. That number appears to have at least tripled since then. Since 2000 over 300,000 illegal migrants have reached Europe, mainly through Italy, via Libya. The EU (European Union) has helped out here by organizing a naval rescue force that has prevented most of the drownings and delivered the illegal migrants safely to Italy.

For ISIL, taking control of people smuggling was a natural as it brought in cash that pays smugglers to bring in food and equipment, as well as weapons and explosives that cannot be obtained (stolen or bought) locally. ISIL also finds that it can send ISIL men to Europe in the refugee boats and European counter-terrorism agencies are beginning to detect this. ISIL also steals oil in Libya as well as kidnapping locals and foreigners for ransom. In part because ISIL profits most from the people smuggling the Tripoli and Tobruk both now interfere with the smuggling operations more frequently. This forces some of the smuggler operations to move to ISIL controlled ports. There aren’t too many of those, but enough to keep the smuggling going. Because so many areas of Libya have no government presence Libya has become a favorite hideout for Islamic terrorists, especially if they are willing to swear allegiance to ISIL. Despite the profits to be made from smuggling ISIL will still occasionally seize non-Moslem migrants and try forcing them to convert. Non-Moslem foreign workers still in Libya are more frequently the target of harassment (including murder) by ISIL.

While most Libyan militias now mainly operate as local defense forces ISIL exists to punish people who don’t agree with them and is fighting to expand its presence in Libya. 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. ISIL is facing the most opposition in Benghazi where the more effective forces of the Tobruk government quickly go after any ISIL activity. In Derna and Sirte the local militias, some of them rival Islamic terrorists, are less effective against ISIL. Thus in Sirte and Derna ISIL is able to use its terror tactics (public executions and beatings) for force civilians to submit to ISIL rule. 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 ISIL is under a lot more pressure from capable militias determined to drive the Islamic extremists out of the area or kill them all. ISIL has attracted the attention of UN investigators who are now documenting the growing number of war crimes (executions, torture, mass murder) committed by ISIL in Libya.

November 20, 2015: Across the southern border in Mali Libya based Islamic terrorists attacked a major hotel in the Mali capital and killed 19 people The Al Qaeda second-in-command in Libya, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, took credit for the attack. Belmokhtar also took credit for a similar attack on another Mali hotel in August. Belmokhtar was also behind the January 2013 natural gas facility attack in southern Algeria that got 37 workers killed. He has also survived several attempts to kill him and has a reputation for being elusive. He survived such attacks in 2013, 2014 and early 2015. Since 2013 his al Mourabitoun faction has been using bases in southern Libya and has been seen operating in northern Mali and Niger. The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for information that would lead to the death or capture of Belmokhtar. Al Mourabitoun continues to survive in Libya because of the chaos there.

November 17, 2015: In Tripoli a local militia kidnapped 62 people from Misrata (the other large city in western Libya and home of major militias that often feud with other militias in the west). This kidnapping was an escalation of a feud between Tripoli and Misrata militias.

November 13, 2015: In the east (outside Derna) ISIL leader for Libya (Abu Nabil) was killed by an American F-15E aircraft delivering a smart bomb. ISIL later claimed that Abu Nabil was still alive but offered no proof. Abu Nabil was believed to be a key factor in setting up and running ISIL operations in Libya. Abu Nabil is an Iraqi who belonged to al Qaeda in Iraq 2004-2010 before joining in the formation of ISIL.

November 12, 2015: The UN is accusing the UAE of violating the arms embargo on Libya by secretly shipping arms to the Tobruk government (which the UN recognizes but will not allow to receive legal weapons imports). The UN moves in mysterious ways. All this began when some UAE emails between government officials (leaked by rival officials) revealed the covert UAE support of the Tobruk government. The UN is upset because the UN official handling the Libya peace negotiations has close ties with the UAE and the Tripoli had already been accusing him of favoring the Tobruk government. That should not be unusual because the Tobruk government is the only one recognized by the UN (and most foreign countries) while the Tripoli government is a shaky coalition of feuding tribal and Islamic terrorist militias. Nevertheless these emails make it more difficult for the Tripoli government to get most of its factions to agree to a peace deal.

November 8, 2015: In the west (Misrata) someone kidnapped two Serbian embassy personnel. It turned out to be for ransom and negotiations are under way.

 

 

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