Daesh’s pretence and the upcoming wars in Libya (The Jordan Times)
Another war is in the making in Libya. The questions are how and when?
While the prospect of another military showdown is unlikely to deliver Libya from its current security upheaval and political conflict, it is likely to change the very nature of the conflict in this rich, but divided, Arab country.
An important pre-requisite to war is to locate an enemy or, if needed, invent one. Daesh, although hardly an important component in the country’s divisive politics, is likely to be that antagonist.
Libya is currently split politically between two governments and geographically among many armies, militias, tribes and mercenaries. It is clearly a failed state, although such designation does not do justice to the complexity of the Libyan case, together with the root causes of that failure.
Now that Daesh has practically taken over the city of Sirte, once a stronghold of former Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi and the bastion of Al Qadhadhfa tribe, the scene is becoming murkier than ever before.
Conventional wisdom has it that the advent of the opportunistic, bloodthirsty group is a natural event, considering the security vacuum resulting from political and military disputes. But there is more to the story.
Several major events led to the current stalemate and utter chaos in Libya. One was NATO’s military intervention, which was promoted then as a way to support Libyans in their uprising against long-time leader Qadhafi.
NATO’s intentional misreading of UN Resolution 1973 resulted in “Operation Unified Protector”, which overthrew Qadhafi, killed thousands and thrust the country into the hands of numerous militias that were, at the time, referred to collectively as the rebels.
The urgency NATO assigned to its war — the aim of which was, allegedly, to prevent a possible genocide — kept many in the media either supportive or quiet. Few dared to speak out.
“While NATO’s UN mandate was to protect civilians, the alliance, in practice, turned that mission on its head. Throwing its weight behind one side in a civil war to oust Qadhafi’s regime, it became the air force for the rebel militias on the ground,” wrote Seumas Milne in The Guardian in May 2012.
“So while the death toll was perhaps between 1,000 and 2,000 when NATO intervened in March, by October it was estimated by the NTC [National Transitional Council] to be 30,000 — including thousands of civilians.”
Equally important were the elections. Libyans voted in 2014, yielding a bizarre political reality where two “governments” claim to be the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people: one in Tobruk and Beida, and the other in Tripoli.
Each “government” has its own military, tribal alliances and regional benefactors. Moreover, each is eager to claim a larger share of the country’s massive oil wealth and access to ports, thus running its own economy.
The most that these governments managed to achieve, however, was a political and military stalemate interrupted by major or minor battles and an occasional massacre. That is, until Daesh appeared on the scene.
The sudden advent of Daesh was convenient. At first, the Daesh threat appeared as an exaggerated claim by Libya’s Arab neighbours to justify their own military intervention. Then, it was verified by video evidence showing visually manipulated Daesh “giants” slitting the throats of poor Egyptian labourers on some mysterious beach.
Then, with little happening in between, Daesh fighters began taking over entire towns, prompting calls by Libyan leaders for military intervention. But the takeover of Sirte by Daesh cannot be easily explained in so casual a way as a militant group seeking inroads in a politically divided country. That sudden takeover happened within a specific political context that can explain the rise of Daesh more convincingly.
In May, Libya Dawn’s 166th Brigade (affiliated with groups that currently control Tripoli) withdrew from Sirte without much explanation.
“A mystery continues to surround the sudden withdrawal of the brigade,” wrote Kamel Abdallah in Al Ahram Weekly.
“Officials have yet to offer an account, in spite of the fact that this action helped Daesh forces secure an unrivalled grip on the city.”
While Salafist fighters, along with armed members of Al Qadhadhfa tribe, moved to halt Daesh’s advances (with terrible massacres reported, although not yet verified) both Libyan governments are yet to make any palpable move against Daesh.
Not even the insistent war-enthusiastic, anti-Islamist General Khalifa Haftar and his so-called “Libyan National Army” made much of an effort to fight Daesh, which is expanding in other parts of Libya as well.
Instead, as Daesh moves forward and consolidates its grip on Sirte and elsewhere, the Tobruk-based Prime Minister Abdullah Al Thinni urged “sister Arab nations” to come to Libya’s aid and carry out air strikes on Sirte.
He has also urged Arab countries to lobby the UN to end its weapons embargo on Libya, which is already saturated with arms that are often delivered illegally from various regional Arab sources.
The Tripoli government is also urging action against Daesh, but the two governments, which failed to achieve a political roadmap for unity, still refuse to work together.
The call for Arab intervention in Libya’s security bedlam is politically motivated, of course, for Thinni is hoping that the air strikes would empower his forces to widen their control over the country, in addition to strengthening his government’s political position in any future UN-mediated agreement.
But another war is being plotted elsewhere, this time involving NATO’s usual suspects.
The Western scheming, however, is far more involved than Thinni’s political designs.
The London Times reported on August 1 that “hundreds of British troops are being lined up to go to Libya as part of a major new international mission”, which will also include “military personnel from Italy, France, Spain, Germany and the United States … in an operation that looks set to be activated once the rival warring factions inside Libya agree to form a single government of national unity”.
Those involved in the operation, which, according to a UK government source, could be actualised “towards the end of August”, are countries with vested economic interests, the same parties behind the war in Libya in 2011.
Commenting on the report, Professor Jean Shaoul wrote: “Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, is expected to provide the largest contingent of ground troops. France has colonial and commercial ties with Libya’s neighbours, Tunisia, Mali and Algeria. Spain retains outposts in northern Morocco and the other major power involved, Germany, is once again seeking to gain access to Africa’s resources and markets.”
It is becoming clearer that Libya, once a sovereign and relatively wealthy nation, is becoming a mere playground for a massive geopolitical game and large economic interests and ambitions.
Sadly, Libyans themselves are the very enablers of the division of their country, with Arab and Western powers scheming to ensure a larger share of Libya’s economic wealth and strategic value.
The takeover of Sirte by Daesh is reported as a watershed moment that is, once again, generating war frenzy — similar to that which preceded NATO’s military intervention in 2011.
Regardless of whether Arabs bomb Libya or Western powers do, the crisis in that country is likely to escalate, if not worsen, as history has amply shown.
The writer, www.ramzybaroud.net, has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His
latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London). He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.