Profits of war

Print edition : September 23, 2011

MUAMMAR QADDAFI, WHO was dislodged after 42 years at the helm in Libya. A March 8, 2011 photograph. - HUSEYIN DOGAN/REUTERS

NATO member-states that scripted the takeover of Tripoli by rebel forces make a mad scramble for profits in post-Qaddafi Libya.

THE fall of the Libyan capital Tripoli to the rebel forces fighting under the cover of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) bombs and missiles has signalled the disintegration of yet another sovereign country. If the mayhem and butchery currently being witnessed in Tripoli are any indication, then Libya is all set to follow Afghanistan and Iraq into chaos and anarchy. Tripoli has been experiencing a wave of looting and destruction similar to the one witnessed in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, after its occupation by the United States.

The NATO intervention in Libya was done on grounds more spurious than those cited in the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq. It was allegedly engineered to stop the massacre of civilians in Benghazi. The NATO forces used the now-ousted Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's threat to use force in Benghazi, after law and order had completely broken down in the city, as an excuse to interfere in the North African country.

After the rebels and their NATO military advisers marched into Tripoli on August 21, the capital has been without essential supplies, including drinking water and electricity. Places of worship, including the oldest Greek Orthodox Church in North Africa, have been ransacked. Hundreds of bodies have been left rotting on the streets and in hospitals. Hospitals have been bereft of essential equipment and medicines. The rebel forces have gone on a looting spree while NATO helicopters and planes continued attacking pro-government holdouts in the capital until late August. As of September 2, the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council (NTC), which has been recognised by the West, has not found it safe to shift to the capital.

Many of Tripoli's residents preferred to flee when the Berber fighters from the country's western mountains, armed by Qatar and trained by NATO Special Forces, swooped down on the capital. Massive NATO bombardment of Libyan army positions had cleared the road to the capital for them. There were only small crowds welcoming the so-called liberators when they entered Tripoli. The fault lines that existed between Benghazi, the former capital under the deposed king, and Tripoli are widening. The assassination on July 28 of Abdel Fatah Younis, the NTC's top commander, by rogue rebel fighters highlighted the disunity among the forces that seek to fill the vacuum left by the larger-than-life persona of the Brother Leader, Qaddafi.

Radical Islamists, many of them owing allegiance to Al Qaeda, were in the forefront of the six-month-long NATO-supervised fight to overthrow the government of Libya. Abdelhakim Belhadj, the founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an Al Qaeda affiliate, led the fighting in Tripoli and openly talked about the key role his group was playing in the ongoing war. Belhadj, who was on America's wanted list after 9/11, was caught in Malaysia in 2003 and subjected to extraordinary rendition and torture by the U.S. in a secret Bangkok prison. The U.S. deported him to Libya in 2004, where he was promptly incarcerated.

In a fit of magnanimity, Qaddafi had released Belhadj along with 211 terrorists, most of them veterans of the jehad in Afghanistan and Iraq. The move to release them was the brainwave of Qaddafi's son Saif al Islam, who wanted to democratise Libyan politics; his efforts were applauded by the West. Belhadj and all those released had signed a document pledging their allegiance to the Libyan government. At the first opportunity, they turned the government and, that too, under the tutelage of NATO. Jehadis from Libya constituted the largest segment of foreign fighters for Al Qaeda in Iraq. Belhadj and his militia have also announced that they will settle for nothing less than Sharia law in a post-Qaddafi Libya. His group is also suspected to have been behind the assassination of Abdel Fatah Younis, a close associate of Qaddafi's, who had defected to the rebel camp.

Libyan rebel fighters drive towards the Zawiyah oil refinery in the strategic coastal town of Zawiyah on August 17.-BOS STRONG/REUTERS

Manhunt for Qaddafi

Qaddafi, who was in power for 42 years, has repeatedly vowed not to surrender and to die fighting for his homeland. Speaking from an undisclosed location on September 1, to mark the anniversary of the military coup that toppled the pro-Western monarchy of King Idris, Qaddafi said that there was no question of surrendering and called on NATO and the United Nations to stop interfering in the internal affairs of Libya. He squarely blamed the international community for plunging the country into a civil war. Imperialism is hated by the Libyan people. Who can accept it? All the people will fight against imperialism, he said. He urged the Libyan people to be prepared for a long fight.

He had warned the international community before the war started that NATO military intervention would turn Libya into another Somalia.

NATO forces are supervising a manhunt for the Libyan leader and are orchestrating the push to capture Sirte Qaddafi's hometown and the heartland of his tribe, the Gaddafiffas. Many of the tribes, especially in the South, continue to swear loyalty to the government. Qaddafi's wife and three of his children had taken refuge in Algeria in the last week of August.



The Algerian government said that the temporary asylum was given on humanitarian grounds and that the group would soon move to a third country. The NTC described the Algerian government's gesture as a warlike move and demanded the immediate return of Qaddafi's family members to face trial. One of Qaddafi's sons, Saif al Arab, and two of his grandchildren were killed in a NATO attack on his residence in May. The rebels repeatedly claimed that they had either killed or captured Qaddafi's two sons who were most politically active, Saif al Islam and Qamis.

Even after the capture of Tripoli, NATO continued with its humanitarian bombing. It pounded civilian centres like Sirte, which are still under the control of the Libyan government forces, making a mockery of the U.N. Security Council resolution that allowed a no-fly zone over the country on the pretext of protecting the civilian populace. The compassion that was shown to Benghazi is not being shown to the hapless citizens of Sirte, who are now being bombed and blockaded by NATO and it local allies.

British newspapers have given details about the extensive deployment of British and Qatari special forces in the assault of Sirte. NATO had given the rebels an air force, tilting the military balance irrevocably against the Libyan government at the outset of the war six months ago. NATO bombings after the fall of Tripoli, according to reports, have killed more than 1,000 civilians in Sirte alone in the last week of August.

The no-fly zone saw to it that the Libyan air force, navy and most of the heavy weaponry were either destroyed or made unusable. The British and French soldiers on the ground had trained and supervised the ragtag militias that were formed and provided them with military leadership. Aerial bombardment on a large scale coupled with targeted assassinations by NATO removed the serious military obstacles along the road to Tripoli. In early August, NATO bombs hit a housing complex, killing more than 70 civilians. There were several attempts to target Qaddafi personally. It was one such attempt that killed his son and grandsons.

The African Union (A.U.), formerly the OAU, or Organisation of African Unity, and many leading countries in the world have not recognised the rump government that NATO seeks to put in place in Tripoli. Only 40 countries have recognised the NTC, which consists of former close associates of Qaddafi's, Western intelligence assets and Islamists, as of early September. The A.U. issued a statement in the last week of August calling for the setting up of an inclusive transitional government that would include representatives from the previous government. The A.U. had repeatedly called for peaceful negotiations to end the fighting ever since the NATO-instigated war started. South African President Jacob Zuma said the A.U. would never recognise the NTC as the legitimate government as long as fighting continued in Libya. The A.U. had also expressed its deep anguish at the killings and continuing abuse of black workers by the NATO-backed rebels. Hundreds of them were unjustifiably called mercenaries and lynched. It happened when the war began and has continued as the rebels move on to Sirte.

Thousands of Tuareg tribesmen, who are Libyan citizens, were forcibly pushed into neighbouring Algeria in late August. The Tuaregs and other dark-skinned compatriots belonging to tribes living in areas bordering Mali, Sudan and Niger had been accused by rebels of siding with Qaddafi. The Algerian government had to give asylum to the Tuaregs who were unjustly expelled from their country as their kinsmen are settled along the common border. Qaddafi has said that a majority of the tribes support him and that they are now fully armed. Governments in the region, such as Algeria's, however fear that much of the sophisticated arms looted in Tripoli and elsewhere will end up in the hands of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQM), which started staging bigger attacks in the past few months.

Qaddafi, it should not be forgotten, was one of the architects of the reconstituted A.U. and was also the loudest proponent of African unity and integration. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela said that his government would recognise only a government led by Qaddafi. Without doubt, we're facing imperial madness, Chavez said after the fall of Tripoli. He once again accused the U.S. and European countries of fomenting internal conflict to seize control of the country's oil riches. Getting the dogs to fight. Arming here, arming there, and later bombing the country, Chavez said. This destroys international law and takes the world to the Stone Age.

CIVILIANS EVACUATE AS rebels try to flush out forces loyal to Qaddafi in Tripoli on August 26.-YOUSSEF BOUDLAL/REUTERS

Virtual protectorate

A U.N. document leaked on August 30 has revealed that the U.N. already had a blueprint to turn Libya into a virtual protectorate. The 10-page document details plans for the deployment of foreign forces (read peacekeepers) in the country to contribute to confidence-building and implementing agreed military tasks. Among the tasks is the stabilisation of the Libyan capital, which would need more robust military assistance. The document envisages a continuing role for NATO. The Security Council's protection of civilians mandate' implemented by NATO forces does not end with the fall of the Gaddafi government, and there, NATO would continue to have some responsibilities, the document stated. The game plan is now to deploy officially NATO ground troops in Libya.

The Ugandan-born academic Mahmoud Mamdani perceptively noted in a recent article that in the past decade Western powers had used two institutions the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to selectively intervene in third countries. The Security Council identifies states guilty of committing crimes against humanity' and sanctions interventions as part of the responsibility to protect civilians', he wrote.

Western countries, armed to the teeth' are then allowed to intervene militarily, without being accountable to anyone. The ICC, meanwhile, in tandem targets the leaders of the states in question for criminal investigation and prosecution', wrote Mamdani.

Spoils of war

Meanwhile, the major NATO member-states that participated in the Libyan war are engaged in reaping the financial rewards for their efforts even before the casualty figures of innocent civilians killed in the war come in. The Western media is full of reports about the mad rush for profits in a post-Qaddafi Libya. The news agency Reuters reported that the establishment of a new government in the country would herald a bonanza for Western companies and investors. Libya has the largest proven reserves of oil on the African continent, estimated at around 46 billion barrels. The rebels who are poised to take over power have said that they have political problems with countries such as Russia, China and Brazil and have strongly suggested that they will dishonour old contracts and sign deals with Italian, French and British companies. Britain and France had to dig deep inside their pockets to finance the costly bombing campaign to dislodge Qaddafi from Tripoli. Now they are openly demanding returns in the form of lucrative oil and defence deals.

India, too, is worried that its small stake in Libya will be jeopardised by the new developments. Oil India Ltd (OIL) had bagged a contract to explore for oil along with Sonatrach, the Algerian state-owned oil company. India, like Algeria, is yet to recognise the NTC as the legitimate Libyan government. Algerian diplomats said that Algeria and the A.U. would extend recognition after a cohesive government was set up in Tripoli. India has already offered to help with relief and reconstruction in Libya.

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