Libya: The Turkish Veto

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November 2, 2020: In the southwest (Ghadames, 465 kilometers from Tripoli) where the Tunisian, Algerian and Libyan borders meet) the GNA Government of National Accord) and HoR (House of Representatives) are holding another round of UN-sponsored negotiations. This follows October 23 talks in Switzerland and October 11 in Egypt. The October 23 discussions produced a permanent ceasefire agreement and continued negotiations. This is the first time these talks are being held in Libya. That last two rounds of negotiations were outside of Libya. There are several issues to resolve, including the continued presence of Turkish troops.

The UN-backed GNA (in Tripoli), is unwilling or unable to get the Turkish force to leave. In any event the Turks refuse, insisting that they signed a binding agreement with the GNA leader. That leader, GNA prime minister Faiez Serraj, has agreed to keep his job until the current peace talks conclude and the GNA and HoR government hold national elections for a new government. The Turks are supposed to leave before that election.

Originally the GNA was created to unite the entire country via national elections and a return to stable government. That never happened, in large part because the Islamic militias that dominate Tripoli and Misrata could not agree with each other and are opposed to any national government that seeks to curb their power and privileges.

Tripoli is the traditional capital and together with nearby Misrata, dominates western Libya. Tripoli is the largest city in the country of six million, containing 20 percent of all Libyans. Misrata has about six percent. Since the UN created the GNA in 2016 there have not been elections, although the HoR government in Tobruk was created by the last national elections in 2014 and refused to cede power to the GNA. Although the HoR was created by an election the elected representatives could not agree on much. The GNA was supposed to solve that problem but couldn’t. Serraj is fed up with four years of frustration and apparently regrets signing off on the deal with the Turks.

The problem is that Libya has never been a democracy but rather a collection of powerful tribes and clans presided over by a king (until the 1960s) and then a military dictator until 2011. Since then no one has been in charge. There have been some national agreements to keep the oil facilities operating, oil exported and that the oil money spent on essential imports. Libya cannot feed or sustain its six million population without the oil income. Take away the oil and Libya will revert to a relatively poor North African country that can only support a few million people at most. Until the 20th century the population of Libya never exceeded a million people and until the 19th century had never exceeded half a million.

While prime minister Serraj struggled with his GNA, tribes in eastern Libya rallied around former exile Khalifa Hiftar, who had fled Libya in the 1980s after incurring the wrath of dictator Kaddafi. Now an American citizen, Hiftar, a former Libyan Army colonel, managed to revive some of the units of the Kaddafi era military and began taking control of military bases from militias or Islamic terrorists who had occupied them. The eastern tribes, and most Libyan tribes, wanted the Islamic terror groups gone. Hiftar agreed and in 2014 began to do just that, as well as expanding the network of tribes that supported him. Hiftar acknowledged the HoR government and remained loyal to it when it was forced to move to Tobruk by the new GNA.

Hiftar sees the recent Turkish intervention as yet another obstacle to national unity. He has not opposed the current ceasefire agreement and negotiations to form a united government and new elections. Turkey supports Islamic government which most Libyans oppose. People in Tripoli and Misrata have come to loathe Islamic government because the Islamic militias have not brought peace and prosperity but perpetual violence and poverty. The Turks intervened because prime minister Serraj signed an agreement with Turkey in November 2019 that gives to Turkey rights over large offshore areas that overlap with Greek claims. In return Turkey agreed to provide military assistance to prevent the LNA from seizing control of Tripoli and eliminating the GNA as a government that controlled any Libyan territory. This deal was declared illegal by most other Mediterranean nations and, technically, GNA did not have the authority to make such a deal. GNA is not a government but a UN created entity that was supposed to unite the country and hold elections. The only entity in Libya close to doing that is the HoR government and its LNA armed forces. So far, the UN refuses to abandon its failed GNA experiment and has so far done little to discourage Turkey from its expansion into Libya and central Mediterranean waters that other nations have existing rights to. The UN is backing peace conferences between the HoR and GNA to form a united government. The biggest obstacle to that is Turkey, which the UN refuses to take on. Hiftar is apparently waiting to see if this works and is concentrating on getting his forces ready for another round of fighting with the Turks. LNA forces still provides security for most of Libya and Hiftar has plenty to keep him busy with that. Hiftar backs the resumption of oil exports and without LNA cooperation that will not happen.

While Turkey is seen as an invader, Russian forces, which have been supporting the LNA for over three years, are seen as allies in the fight against Islamic terrorism. Russia and Turkey are allies in Syria but are actually fighting each other in Libya. Well, not exactly fighting anymore but maintaining armed forces and confronting each other in anticipation of a peaceful settlement. In addition to Russia the LNA was backed by Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In Syria Russian airstrikes have killed Turkish troops while the Turks have killed Syrian troops. That has also stopped, for the moment. The Libya fighting resulted in NATO countries openly backing Greece in the maritime dispute with Turkey that led to the Libya invasion.

November 1, 2020: Oil production has risen to 800,000 BPD (barrels per day) since August when the LNA ordered preparations for oil exports to resume. The NOC (National Oil Company) plans to have that up to a million BPD by the end of 2020 and 1.3 million BPD in early 2021 and 1.6 million by the end of 2021. This is the production level before the 2011 civil war began. Oil exports have already resumed, although militias near these ports still threaten to shut them down if the militias do not receive more money for protecting the ports (from other militias).

The key oil ports include Ras Lanuf (620 kilometers east of Tripoli) and Es Sider/Sidra (20-30 kilometers further east). In normal times Es Sider and Ras Lanuf can ship 600,000 barrels a day. Nearby is the oil port of Zueitina (220 kilometers west of Ras Lanuf and 180 kilometers southwest of Benghazi). In between Ras Lanuf and Zueitina is the oil port at Brega. Ras Lanuf , Zueitina and Brega can export 800,000 BPD. Max Libyan production is believed to be about two million BPD and NOC sees achieving that as possible if the ceasefire holds and the remaining unruly militias are brought under control.

The ceasefire agreement calls for the LNA controlled oil facilities to resume operation and oil revenue sent to bank accounts outside Libya that are monitored by foreign auditing firms. This auditing arrangement is part of anti-corruption effort to ensure that most of the oil revenue goes to purchase essential items for all Libyans. Most Libyans are dependent on oil income to avoid abject poverty. Currently the Libyan economy is not developed sufficiently to provide a comfortable standard-of-living for all six million Libyans, especially the five million still living in Libya. World oil prices are very low now (under $40 per barrel) because of the covid19 recession and a worldwide oversupply of oil and natural gas. Back in 2011 oil went for over a hundred dollars a barrel.

October 30, 2020: GNA leader, prime minister Faiez Serraj has withdrawn his resignation and will keep the job until the current peace talks are over. Eventually there will be new national elections. This can only happen if the LNA and HoR government, which controls most of the country, agrees. Serraj announced his resignation in September, to take effect at the end of October, after four years in office. No one else really wants the job. There are only a small number of qualified candidates and these men see peace and unification of GNA and HoR as the only solution for nine years of chaos.

October 29, 2020: The major militias in Tripoli refuse to disband and the current peace negotiations cannot succeed unless all the militias in GNA territory (the cities of Tripoli and Misrata) disband. These militias are h eavily influenced by more moderate Islamic groups. These militias are hostile to ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) but not to less extreme Islamic terror groups like al Qaeda and the Moslem Brotherhood. The problem with the GNA militias is that they refuse to submit to any national government, including the one the LNA represents. Self-preservation keeps them going and that forced the major militias to cooperate to prevent Tripoli from being taken by the LNA in early 2020. The LNA managed to gain control over most of Libya because it was openly hostile to Islamic militias in general and Islamic terrorists in particular. The LNA was founded in 2014 to do two things; bring peace to Libya and eliminate Islamic terror groups from Libya. A dozen or so major militias in Tripoli and Misrata have become economically successful through extortion, smuggling and occasional grand theft. The militia leaders do not want to surrender that wealth and independence. Another reason for this stubbornness is that many militia members would be subject to prosecution for crimes (kidnapping, murder and so on) committed since 2011. That lawlessness has made most people in GNA territory hostile to the militias and inclined to accept the LNA and HoR rule. The Turkish forces are seen as another militia, with their own agenda, one that does not include a united and democratic Libya.

October 25, 2020: The GNA called for all militias to leave oil facilities. Those militias have long been a problem because they extort large fees to “protect” oil facilities. The LNA had deals with the militias that assure payment and prompt armed intervention of any militias break the agreement. The LNA expected to eventually replace the militias with a professional security force but had to eliminate the GNA and get an elected national government in place first.

October 24, 2020: The LNA accuses Turkey of trying to prevent a peace and national unification deal between the GNA and HoR. The Turkish leader openly doubts that the peace talks will succeed. That is guaranteed if the Turkish forces cannot be removed from Libya. The Turks have their own goals in Libya and that does not include a new national government that wants Turkish troops to leave.

October 23, 2020: The GNA signed a mutual security agreement with Qatar, a Persian Gulf Arab oil state that is an ally of Iran and Turkey. The agreement enables Qatar and GNA to negotiate ways that Qatar had help the GNA improve its security forces.

October 13, 2020: In Egypt, three days of UN-sponsored peace talks between the GNA and HoR concluded. The two Libyan governments worked out procedures to unite the two governments and hold national elections. A major item is the GNA disarming or disbanding its many militias and getting foreign troops, especially the Turks, out of the country.

October 12, 2020: Turkey has begun a training program to turn loyal (non-militia) GNA gunmen into professional soldiers. GNA has few of those while the LNA has a lot of them and is constantly training more.

October 9, 2020: The Central Bank reported that the 2013-2020 fighting has led to oil income losses of $180 billion. Oil income declined from $53 billion in 2012 to $4.8 billion in 2016. In 2020 there was negligible oil-income because the LNA shut down oil exports when Turkish forces entered the fighting on the side of the GNA. Since the ceasefire negotiations the LNA has lifted its embargo on oil exports but it has taken over a month to get the oil exports moving again. The oil embargo caused the Libyan GDP to shrink by at least half for 2020. Without resumption of oil exports, Libya will starve because the cash reserves are nearly gone. That has been a major motivator for the current peace talks.

October 8, 2020: India and Tunisia arranged the release of seven Indian men kidnapped on September 13th and held for random. Libya still has lots of foreign workers, especially in the oil industry and many other technical jobs not enough Libyans can fill. Kidnapping is one the main dangers for these foreign workers. India has an embassy in Tunisia but not Libya.

September 28, 2020: In Sabratha (a coastal city 66 kilometers west of Tripoli) GNA forces were unable to prevent a local militia from raiding a neighborhood where 350 illegal migrants from West Africa were awaiting movement to Europe. The raiders overwhelmed the guards posted by the smuggler gang and stole what they could find. The raiders then took the illegal migrants to another warehouse, apparently with the intention of holding them for ransom. Most of the migrants escaped during all this but sixty are still held prisoner and the GNA has no forces strong enough to free the prisoner.

Sabratha had long been notorious as the main port from which criminal gangs, under the protection of Tripoli based militias, moved illegal migrants to Europe. Local militias sometimes allowed this as long as they got a slice of that income. The militias protected the gangsters moving the illegal migrants to Europe via Libya. Most of the boats loaded with illegal migrants headed for Europe leave from Sabratha and a other smaller coastal towns in the area. It costs these illegals thousands of dollars each for the smugglers to get them to the Libyan coast and then on a boat that will get them to Europe or close enough for the EU (European Union) naval patrol to rescue them and take them the rest of the way. The smuggling gangs took in over a billion dollars from this in 2015 and that kind of income was too attractive to give up without a fight. But since 2017 the LNA, some Sabratha militias and Italy worked to shut down the smugglers. The LNA had a plan for shutting down all the smuggling gangs and wanted more support from the EU to do the same with the European gangs which control more of this smuggling than the EU would like to admit. Italy took the lead implementing an EU program to organize (and subsidize) a revived Libyan coast guard and paying southern tribes to go after people smugglers. That was the easy part and it soon greatly reduced the flow of illegals to the EU, most of them coming in via Italy. The Turkish intervention made it possible for the larger Tripoli militias to resume their people smuggling.

 

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