Libya, a ship that won’t stop sinking

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By: Guadi Calvo / Source: / The Dawn News / July 9, 2016


The coastal city of Misrata, 240 km away from the City of Sirte is the place that saw the birth and the murder of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. Until a few days ago, it also was the first capital of Daesh outside Iraq and Syria. But now the Libyan Bunyan Marsu brigades, together with other forces, have managed to break the resistance of the Caliphates. The “al Nafir ila Libya”(Mobilization Towards Libya) campaign organized by Caliph Ibrahim’s men to recruit fighters for Daesh, has not yielded the expected success. Western sources estimate that right now in Sirte there are between 5 and 8 thousand fighters resisting the onslaught of the Misrata militias, which last week have managed to conquer the port to continue their way to the center of the city.

The fighters of Daesh, mostly Libyan, but also Tunisian, Chadian, Malian and Nigerian, are gathering in the center of the city, and therefore a great battle is expected, maybe even more memorable than the one of the Tripoli Airport in the summer of 2014: the battle of Sirte will undoubtedly end with a victory for Western forces, and it will not solve the problems of Salafism in Libya, on the contrary, it may intensify their attacks; on one hand they might be more sporadic but on the other hand they are expected to more lethal due to “propaganda needs”. So, there might be large-scale attacks against the civil population and against the scarce amount of infrastructure that is still standing after five years of war. At this stage, oil-related infrastructure will be threatened, since it constitutes the only source of interest for the West in that country, and at the same time it represents the only genuine income of the Libyan “State”, which today is represented by the Government of the Libyan National Union (GNA), led by someone who increasingly de-legitimized with each passing day: Fayez al-Sarraj, the last agent created by the UN to make Colonel al-Gaddafi’s old homeland look like an old-fashioned nation.

Fayez al-Sarraj
Fayez al-Sarraj

It’s known that there are inactive cells of Daesh both in the city of Tripoli and the city of Misrata, that could be activated once Sirte is finally taken down. On the other hand, it’s expected that the Daesh troops that were left in the rural areas of South-West Sirte may establish a guerrilla system, until they find a new base. These guerillas would possibly act in the desertic province of Fezzan, south of the country, away from the coastal area but with a great border with Niger and Chad. This would provide Daesh with new supply routes, of both goods and fighters,coming from Sahel. Some reports report that weeks before the beginning of the siege in Sirte by the Misrata Brigades, a Daesh group allegedly arrived to the area to analyse the possibility of settling in the region, which for some years has been the epicenter of arms trafficking, and the sanctuary of some Salafist groups that operate in the bordering countries.

Since Sirte was captured by Daesh in February 2015, its 80 thousand inhabitants had to adapt to the rigid rules of the Sharia (Islamic law) which forced thousands of families to escape to Misrata and other nearby cities. Another group that is sieging Sirte from the west is the 166 Brigade, which has grown strong in Abu Grein, 80 km away from the City.

Some analysts minimize the loss of Sirte at the hands of the IS, because they believe it doesn’t hold as much strategic importance for the Salafists as the cities of Raqqa (Syria) or Mosul (Iraq). But the loss of any position, like in the case of the bastions of Iraq and Syria —Ramadi, Tikrit, Palmira— to an organization that uses marketing as a powerful weapon, is always a hard blow.

There’s the possibility of encapsulating Daesh in the south of the country or in areas close to Sirte, obviating the fact that they could react with suicidal attacks or the kind of massacre that have given them worldwide fame. This situation could be the opportunity for the GNA to take advantage of the other two political organizations that continue to seize power in the country: the parliament of Tripoli and Tobruk, who have refused to recognize the GNA.

A French Touch

The fall of Sirte is seen as the best way for the dozens of armed bands and autonomous militias that have kidnapped millions of Libyans to become unified. To unite under the excuse of a common enemy: Islamic State. And it would be a great way to perpetuate the government of Fayez al-Sarraj, plus it would bring a breath of fresh air for western powers after years, because since they decided to burn Libya down in 2011, they don’t know what to do.

To achieve unity, the GNA should make agreements with many militias, who have different territorial anchorings and fire power. In some cases these groups are even close to Salafism, but due to political resentments have kept their distance from Daesh. But the GNA would also have to make deals with many tribes who have managed to survive the destruction caused by the war against al-Gaddafi.

Amidst this sea of confusion, with mixed political and commercial interests held by the various armed groups, there is a player that is not willing to give in to the Chief of the National Libyan Army (LNA): General Khalifa Hafter, the man of the Tobruk Parliament, a fundamental piece to, for example, give the final blow in Sirte.

General Haftar was one of al-Gaddafi’s men until he was defeated in the war against Chad (1986-1987). Due to this, he was overthrown and imprisoned, and then he left to his exile in the US, where he immediately contacted the CIA and, since then, became one of the most important actors of the war against Libya.

General Haftar
General Haftar

Currently Haftar, who from day one has presented himself as the most important men of the West in Libya, felt betrayed when he was put aside and when the UN replaced him by a merely political actor, Fayez al-Sarraj.

Haftar has no completely terminated his relationship with the West, but has not desisted from becoming the strongest man in “post-Gaddafi” Libya. An enemy to Islamic fundamentalism, he is related to the US due to his long exile and to his ties with the CIA —he even became an North American citizen—, and wants to keep a image as “a civilized man of order”.

Khalifa Haftar wants to take power but, for that, he will first have to defeat Daesh, which would allow his armed organization, “the National Army”, to become the legitimate army of the Libyan unity.

Another possible scenario for him would be to consolidate his control over Cyrenaica, whose capital is Benghazi, eternal enemy of Tripoli and the place where the betray against Gaddafi began.

To settle in the region, Haftar even tried to supply Cyrenaica with its own currency, for which he contacted a Russian company to print 7 million dinars: but this strategy finally failed. He also tried to commercialize oil: his maneuver was discovered when the Diṣṭyā Ameya ship was detained last March 25, while they were trying to sell its load of 650 thousand barrels to the DSA Consultancy FZC, an oil company with headquarters in the United Arab Emirates and with whom Haftar has a close relationship. The operation was cancelled in the areas near to the Malta Island because the UN established that the only authorized company to commerce Libyan oil is the National Oil Corporation (NOC) which has its headquarters in Tripoli.

The Misrata militias are Haftar’s sworn enemies and have openly opposed him since the day one, in the famous battles of the Tripoli Airport, and since then, in that battle without winners, the most important issues remain unresolved.

The old General has done everything to reach his desired position as al-Gaddafi’s successor and that’s why he is counting on some international support from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates, which have contributed economic resources and weapons. France could also be included in this list of friends, albeit more discreetly.

Formally, Paris should follow the decisions of the UN, but their individual economic interests are well known, and they include arms trafficking. As it just happened with Egypt, President François Hollande dreams of providing Rafale airplanes to the forces of Haftar, so that they can finally end their war and turn him into the strongest man on Libyan territory. This new approach of France could leave it in a proper position to take control of the oil business. It’s well-known that French special forces are settled in the Benima Airport, in the city of Benghazi, training and supplying the “National Army”.

By supporting General Haftar, Cairo is making sure that their Western border continues to be out of limits for Salafist groups, which allows them to focus their struggle on the Sinai Peninsula, where the Wilayat Sina group (member of Daesh) has given some hard blows: among them, the downing of the Russian Aircraft A-321 in October 2015, where 220 people died.


Russian Aircraft A-321

The arrival of a Saudi ship loaded with military supply to the port of Benghazi shortly before Haftar initiated his offensive against Daesh is linked to the Saudi interest in distancing itself from the image of Califa Ibrahim, with whom they have many mutual debts. Other versions speculate that Khalifa Haftar seeks to take control of the oil fields, which would cause a new dispute with Ibrahim Jadhran, Chief of the “Oil Guards”, who monitor the extraction plants, under the control of Western companies.

Also, between Haftar and Jadhran there is a remarkable personal rivalry that dates back to the time in which the General was loyal to al-Gaddafi and Jadhran was member of the Libyan Group of Islamic Struggle, who fought against the Colonel’s government.

Another important obstacle for Khalifa Haftar is that he not only was a part of al-Gaddafi’s army, but he also joined the sublevation once Gaddafi was murdered in October 2011. His relationship with the CIA is another irritating element, and another fundamental issue, which may be the hardest one to understand for Western minds, is that Haftar is member of the Firjan tribe, also from Sirte, home of Colonel al-Gaddafi’s tribe, the Qadadfa. Western powers refuse to get involved in the Libyan conflict that they themselves created themselves, despite the fact that, according to some media, five thousand Italian officials are ready to intervene in their old colony, a rumour that has been denied by the Minister, Matteo Renzi.

NATO, the EU, and the US have caused the sinking of what used to be the most progressive nation of Africa until the beginning of 2011. Today, they refuse to intervene to stop the sinking in which 6 million people are drowning.

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