Archive for August, 2011
Barcelona- TWD made onto CNN.com today after new developments in Tripoli stoked even more interest in the now solidifying concept of a post-Qaddafi Libya. In other news, TWD made it onto wikipedia.org in entries for Jalal al-Digheily who had a brief post as the TNC’s civilian defense minister and Omar al-Hariri, the TNC’s head of military affairs.
(CNN) — Tribal rivalries, an east-west divide, a rebel leadership lacking coherence, a shattered economy and the absence of a “civil society” — these are just a few of the challenges that a post-Gadhafi Libya will face.
The rebel National Transitional Council is aware of the perils ahead and has produced a blueprint for the immediate aftermath of Gadhafi’s downfall and for a political process leading to democratic elections.
Haunted by the lack of planning in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the international community — in the shape of the Libyan Contact Group — has urged the NTC to pursue reconciliation.
In a statement Sunday night, President Barack Obama called on the NTC to pursue “a transition to democracy that is just and inclusive for all of the people of Libya.”
But that is no simple formula in a society riven by deep-seated rivalries and with no experience of democracy.
In 42 years as Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi purged Libyan society of any alternative voice or real discourse.
His Revolutionary Committees were ubiquitous, silencing dissent and enforcing the eccentric orthodoxy of the “Brother Leader’s” teachings.
In such a warped society, there has been little space for the emergence of a professional, qualified middle-class, and none for trade unions, opposition groups or other symbols of civil society.
The only organized group not tied to the regime was the Muslim Brotherhood, driven underground by Gadhafi.
As in Iraq in 2003 or Syria now, there is no recognized opposition figure or group that transcends tribal, regional and sectarian rifts.
Gadhafi survived as long as he did, according to Libyan scholar Mansour O. El-Kikhia, by breaking up the power bases of Libya’s largest and most influential tribes.
Lands and influence were redistributed to more “dependable” tribes such as the Warfalla, Qadhadfa and Megarha.
Places like Gadhafi’s hometown — Sirte — received more resources than those regarded as less loyal. But tribal loyalties have survived and perhaps become more important in the absence of other political institutions.
Eastern Libya — where the rebellion began and is still based — has long been at odds with the west, Gadhafi’s power base.
The pattern of the past six months’ conflict suggests that geographical divide persists. Tribes in the west may not take kindly to the sudden dominance of a movement that began in the east. The rebel leadership in Benghazi has tried to co-ordinate with the rebellion in the west — which began in the Nafusa Mountains and in some ways has been more effective on the battlefield — but has not directed or controlled it.
Libya is a vast country — 1.75 million square kilometers – with many “under-governed” spaces, especially in the immense Sahara.
In neighboring states such as Chad, Algeria and Niger, these are the spaces claimed by revolts and more recently by Islamist groups professing allegiance to al Qaeda.
Gadhafi had his own problems with Islamic extremism — the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was one of the most effective groups sympathetic to al Qaeda before its leaders turned against jihad in return for a mass release from Libyan jails. Towns in eastern Libya became well-known for supplying fighters to the insurgency in Iraq, though the rebel leadership insists Gadhafi has exaggerated the threat of Islamist extremism for his own ends.
Then there is the resurgent Berber identity in the western mountains. Gadhafi persecuted the Berbers, a non-Arab minority — even accusing them of being agents of the CIA.
But in the months since his forces have lost control of the Nafusa Mountains, the Berbers have re-established their language (Tamazight), their culture and even their flag. They are determined not to be subjugated again. The Berber Institute for Civil Society issued a statement this weekend setting out the community’s demands: “Tamazight should be recognised in the Constitution in all its dimensions … This is a prerequisite of the Amazigh movement.”
Libya’s oil wealth has been a curse as well as a blessing. It has allowed lavish spending on education (with thousands of students sent to universities overseas) and infrastructure, and government subsidies have made staples affordable for millions.
But there’s been virtually no diversification of the economy; about 95% of the Libyan state’s revenues derive from hydrocarbons. Unemployment probably exceeds 30% and half the population is under the age of 15. The civil service is thought to employ about one in five Libyans.
Gadhafi built up a byzantine bureaucracy, but not one known for its efficiency. The adage among Libyans is “Inshallah, bokra, moumken,” which means “With the will of God, tomorrow, maybe.”
Nor is there much entrepreneurial spirit. Much of the hard work — building railroads, servicing oil installations — has been done by economic migrants and contract workers — and hundreds of thousands of them fled when the fighting began.
But Libya has advantages.
About 80% of its people are literate; electricity is connected to almost the whole country.
Economists say there are long-term opportunities — Libyan oil is plentiful and low in sulphur — if new industries can be built and a work ethic encouraged. Much also depends on whether opposition figures like Ali Tarhouni, who taught at the University of Washington State and holds the economic and oil portfolio, are given authority.
But the immediate priorities, according to western diplomats, center on basic services: electricity, food, water and above all security — priorities that were ignored in Iraq. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has urged the NTC to ensure that technocrats in the Libyan government are not purged.
Libyan opposition officials envisage several thousand Arab troops — possibly from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar — being drafted into the capital to help stabilize what could be a chaotic situation.
Pockets of Gadhafi loyalists remain Where is Moammar Gadhafi? What role will U.S. now play in Libya?
Saddam Hussein’s fall was followed by an orgy of looting in Baghdad. How far the remnants of Gadhafi’s army and police can be integrated into new security forces is a huge open question.
But a template drawn up by the NTC’s envoy in the Emirates, Aref Ali Nayed, includes detailed plans for keeping police units in uniform. Journalist Derek Flood of the Jamestown Foundation, who has recently been in the western mountains, told CNN that he witnessed police training programs under way.
The rebels seem to be aware that a new security force imposed from the east would be a recipe for trouble. Much will depend on whether Gadhafi loyalists begin a campaign of sabotage after he has gone, much as Saddam Hussein’s Baathists did.
There are also plans for an airlift of humanitarian supplies and the rapid rehabilitation of the oil infrastructure, though industry experts say it will be some time before pre-war exports of 1.6 million barrels a day can be attained.
Plans are one thing, but without an inclusive transition and transparency they will be quickly overwhelmed.
For the more unscrupulous, there will be temptations to divert oil revenues to private accounts.
The anti-corruption group Transparency International rates Libya 146th in its corruption perception index, close to the bottom of the league.
The NTC lacks cohesion — a hastily devised group of former regime figures, intellectuals, nationalists, secularists and Islamists. It has also shown disunity to a murderous degree — witness the murky circumstances of the killing of military chief Abdel Fatah Younis last month.
But it’s now the only game in town and under its own transition plan will run Libya for the next eight months. Even the NTC’s chairman, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, has described this option as the “best of the worst.”
Any collapse of authority in Libya would have grim implications for its neighbors — especially Egypt and Tunisia.
Libya has been a source of work for millions of other North Africans. But chaos in Libya would also worry Europe. It could become another route for the flow of drugs from Africa.
Illegal immigration across the Mediterranean is already taxing Italy. And were Islamist extremists, such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, to gain a foothold, they would have ready access to Europe.
Barcelona- I appeared on CNN today discussing some of my observations about my recent trip to Jebel Nafusa. Produced by Tim Lister in Atlanta.
(CNN) — Six months and more than 17,000 air sorties after it began, NATO’s Operation Unified Protector in the skies over Libya grinds on.
What was envisaged in March as a rapid engagement to prevent Moammar Gadhafi’s forces from razing Benghazi to the ground has evolved into a long slog. And increasingly NATO operations have dovetailed with those of the rebels — with the aim of making pro-Gadhafi forces incapable of offensive action.
The initial mandate set out by the United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 was to protect civilians under threat or attack, to enforce an arms embargo on the country and implement a no-fly zone.
“What was initially supposed to be a neutral intervention to protect civilians that were threatened specifically in Benghazi has morphed into being largely a one-sided affair to support the Libyan rebel force to overthrow Gadhafi,” says Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Throughout the conflict NATO has continued to insist that all its actions are aimed at protecting civilians from pro-Gadhafi forces, and that it has not “taken sides.” On Thursday, the Royal Air Force spoke of “precision strikes on former regime facilities at Sabratah [west of Tripoli], including a commando base which had been used by Colonel Gadhafi’s men to launch numerous reprisals against the local people.”
See a timeline of the conflict
But such missions are invariably close to areas where the rebels are trying to break through. In recent weeks, sustained NATO strikes around Brega, Misrata and in the western Nafusa mountains have helped tip the military balance in the rebels’ favor, to the point that Gadhafi’s opponents have become reluctant to enter the fray until air power has softened up the enemy.
Derek Flood, a journalist and analyst with the Jamestown Foundation, has just spent several weeks in western Libya. “I found the rebels had become almost overly dependent on NATO to the point they wouldn’t act without NATO actually softening up the targets first.”
Libyan hospital overwhelmed Rebels gaining ground in Tripoli Libyan rebels claim critical victory Video: Libyan rebels free prisoners
Most recently, rebel efforts to take the vitally important town of Zawiyah, just 30 miles west of Tripoli, were preceded by several days of NATO sorties. NATO lists about a dozen “key hits” around Zawiyah in the past five days. The Royal Air Force also targeted a boat commandeered by several Libyan soldiers to get out of Zawiyah, but a statement said that “since it was clear from their actions that these troops continued to pose a threat to the local population, the RAF patrol engaged the ship,” which was destroyed.
There appears to be growing coordination between NATO and rebel military commanders.
Video footage emerged at the beginning of this month of a column of rebel tanks and pickup trucks, outside the city of Brega in eastern Libya, daubed with orange paint to distinguish them from government forces and ensure they weren’t erroneously bombed.
In previous days, NATO planes had hit several pro-regime targets around Brega.
On a fluid battlefield, where military assets are poorly marked and often hidden in civilian areas, NATO needs forward air controllers to help with targeting.
“Western air forces don’t bomb without that direct ability to visualize the battlefield, especially when the regime has placed so many of its assets within civilian protected areas,” Zenko says.
NATO spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie was pressed on the issue at a news briefing last month. “NATO does not have direct coordination with opposition forces or rebel forces in Brega,” he said. But he added: “We follow the situation through allied information sources that are in the area.”
Zenko says such “allied information sources” may be retired special forces soldiers or military contractors. They are said to be in contact with a liaison office in rebel-held Benghazi, which passes on information to the NATO command center in Naples, Italy.
NATO won’t comment on such arrangements.
The arms embargo has been liberally interpreted by some, with Qatar and France supplying the rebels with weapons and military advice. Qatar is reported to have supplied the rebels with antitank missiles, flying them into Benghazi. And Derek Flood said he believes Qatar was also getting weapons to the rebels via the Tunisian border. In the western mountains “there was support on the ground from Qatari officials as well as Emirati officials,” he said. Tunisian officials deny weapons are crossing their border. Neither Qatar nor the United Arab Emirates have commented on such involvement.
France acknowledged in June that it had air-dropped assault rifles and ammunition to Berber militia groups in the western mountains but said they were to help civilians protect themselves.
At sea, NATO has operated a blockade — in accordance with U.N. resolutions — to prevent any resupply of Gadhafi forces. But in one instance in May a Canadian frigate stopped a rebel tugboat carrying howitzer rounds, ammunition and “lots of explosives” from Benghazi to Misrata. NATO commanders allowed the vessel to proceed on the grounds that it was moving from one Libyan port to another.
More recently, there was the murky case of the oil tanker Cartagena, a vessel owned by the Libyan government but stranded at sea with 30,000 tons of gasoline since May. Rebels boarded the ship in international waters and diverted it to Benghazi with NATO permission. The unknown: Did the rebels have help in seizing the ship? It’s not the sort of operation they are used to.
NATO’s mission has shifted in another way. After hitting more than 3,000 military targets — from ammunition dumps to tanks to radar and command-and-control facilities — there are not many more left. So it has turned to the regime’s infrastructure. The satellite dishes of Libyan state TV were bombed on the grounds that the broadcaster was being used to “incite violence.” The radar at Tripoli airport also was taken out, and the sprawling Gadhafi compound in Tripoli has been targeted several times.
NATO officials say operations will continue for as long as it takes, though how long it takes to do what is an open question. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said repeatedly that the conflict can only end with a political solution, but the outlines of such a solution are far from clear.
Zenko says the goal from early on has been regime change, and the latest tactic is to try to cut off all economic and outside supplies to make it cease functioning.
While the Libyan regime has lost access to much of the country and is losing critical routes to the east, west and south, Derek Flood says it appears to retain control of border crossings in the Sahara desert — from Algeria, Chad and Niger.
The military balance has tipped in the rebels’ favor. Flood says the capture by rebels of the important road junction at Gharyan 80 kilometers south of Tripoli can only further isolate the regime, cutting off fuel supplies from Algeria. Even so, it still controls large tracts of a vast country.
NATO’s current mandate in Libya expires at the end of September. Its members may yet be asked to extend it once again.
Tarragona- I went delving into Mohammed Atta and Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s mysterious doings in July 2001 here in Spain’s fiercely autonomous Catalunya region. After taking a RENFE train down the coast to the ancient Roman city of Tarraco (Tarragona), I spent hours walking and taking train and bus rides as well as asking a lot of street directions, to try and reconstruct Atta’s stay here just over 10 years ago. No publication in English that I can find talks about all four of the locales, the only thing I can find is a book by an El Pais journalist which I will now attempt to scour Barcelona to find as a reference tool. This is getting in the minutiae of the road to 9/11 but why did these men need to stay in four hotels in three cities in well under a two week period? Was it a level of spontaneity, disorganization, or was Atta trying to throw any possible interlopers off his trail? We will never be able to know as Atta’s remains were atomized in the wreckage of AA11 and the North Tower.
Trying to piece together al-Qaeda’s Catalunya summit a decade on is a convoluted, complicated affair. Looking back at so many different books and newspaper articles, no two accounts of this period in Atta’s timeline are identical (as with most of the timelines of the 9/11 actors I have looked into). One of the key questions is a gap of approximately four days between when he checked in at the Monica in Cambrils and then checked in at the Sant Jordi further north in Tarragona proper. He then went to Salou which lies between Cambrils and Tarragona. Some sources suggest Atta and bin al-Shibh stayed in an al-Qaeda safehouse in the unaccounted for interim as Spanish and American authorities were unable to find hotel records for the two AQ men between July 9-13, 2001. What most want to know is whether or not Atta and bin al-Shibh met some of the key Syrian and/or Maghrebi AQ facilitators here.
Barcelona- This hilarious article came out in the Daily Mail about show jumping rabbits here in Europe, something I never knew existed. So as not to get overly exercised about certain frustrating geopolitical constructs, one need only to picture Snoopy the rabbit staring down his competitors at the starting line. Things needn’t always be so serious?
Barcelona- It is never not a strange, sometimes awkward transition from a war in the third world to the oft petty tranquility of the first. Unable to get a flight from Tunis directly to Catalunya, my best bet was flying to Toulouse in southern France and getting to Spain overland. Landing in Toulouse where ramadan is a relatively minor affair amongst the city’s immigrants rather than a society-wide compulsion as in north Africa was one transition. The radical change in climate was another such transition. The most significant and problematic change though can be one of internal isolation. Of being of a society and yet out of step with its norms. I never felt this so strongly as when returning from Afghanistan and Central Asia to Brooklyn (and later San Diego) in December of 2001.
Bombs, death, solidarity. And then suddenly indie rock kids, art school dilettantes mulling over gentrification as the most controversial issue in their lives and of course, the requisite dive bars. Walking up and down Atlantic avenue in a grubby Russian parachutist jacket given to me by a bartender in Turkmenistan who was a part-time hapless conscript in Turkmenbashi’s ‘neutral’ military, I felt like a Viet Nam vet walking around in a daze in Tampa in 1982. A product of the society but disconnected painfully from it.
Now, nearly ten years on, I have become my accustomed to my own version of normalcy. Riding an immaculate French train through the Pyrenees with chain smoking Spanish mountain bikers, French hikers, and carefree Italian backpackers and me sitting there apart and alone with a laptop and cameras full of images of war and destruction, the intermingling of Europe’s three primary Latin languages danced past my ears. They could never understand nor perhaps should they. I was a witness, an interlocutor between these seemingly disparate but sometimes unknowingly integrated worlds. I arrived back in Barcelona to a city of fully booked hotels and drunken, smiling tourists. Rescued by a friend with a couch for the night, next thing I know I am the debauched tourist, meeting a panoply of people from across the European Union.
It was all as if it never happened. As if the Jebel Nafusa war was some distant, faint relict of my imagination. Was the artillery as bad as I recall? Was the food really so scarce? Some say to live life is to almost die. Well in that stark expressionism, I suppose I have just lived and Barcelona is some sort of waking dream. The skateboards click by. The Catalan chatters at the sidewalk cafe. The Bangladeshis pedal their mysteriously frozen cervesa beers trying to outmaneuver their Pakistani competitors. West African prostitutes aggressively grab at British louts. The breeze passes through my auberge espagnole as a calm city waits outside below. Oh Libya, what have you done to me?
Tozeur- I made a hellacious trek across southern Tunisia in high summer for a Lucasfilm pilgrimage I have dreamed of for decades. Both Star Wars: Episdoe IV A New Hope and Raiders of the Lost Ark were filmed in the stark and stunning oasis region of Toezur and nearby Nefta. The friendly guys at Tunisie Voyages in Tozeur made this all possible, despite the hardship imposed by ramadan they made it happen for me. Fantastique! The first thing I figured out when trying to get the lay of the land for the film locales in Tunisia for both Star Wars and Raiders, is that they are spread almost evenly throughout the country. Shots from the films are cut together in such a way that one would think these were all in the same region. Not so. With limited time and resources, I had to pick and choose my battles. I wanted to pinpoint some of the Raiders sites but many of them are less distinct. I am pretty sure that the truck chase scene was filmed at the palmerie in Nefta that we drove by on the way to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s igloo.
Djerba- I have a photo essay in today’s edition of Asia Times Online on my week spent covering the war in western Libya, arguably the least covered of Libya’s three primary fronts. I was a fascinating time spent amongst a gracious, hearty group of men (there were virtually no women to be seen). In particular I want to thanks Khalid at the Nalut Media Center without whose help I could not have done much of this, and Salah who patiently ran the journo flophouse, whose constant battles to keep the electricity going with that problematic generator will be remembered at least by me. I am grateful for the access the Nalutis afforded me to their under reported side of the Libyan war. It is amazing how cut off one could feel there from the outside world when it was just an hour’s drive from relative normalcy in southeastern Tunisia. The talk of things dramatically tapering off during ramadan does not appear to be the case just a half a day in as Al Jazeera English tweets from a still active frontline.
Qaddafists are still heavily dug in around the town of Tiji and several other places north and east of Ghazaya and Takut. There is much fighting left to do in Libya as Qaddafi still controls much if not most of the Saharan state’s vast territory. One positive (though maybe premature development) I forgot to note the other day was the return of thousands of refugees from Tunisia following the success of the rebels NATO-backed offensive against the GRAD-firing Qaddafists that had previously turned Nalut into a ghost town. When I crossed the border, about 500 cars and trucks filled with women and children, a sight I had quickly become unaccustomed to seeing, were queueing up to cross back into Libya. A couple of men from this massive line helped me get a ride with some oil smugglers all the way to Tatouine for which I am very thankful. That border was the one place in the world where I actually wish there had been a scrum of taxi touts after what seemed like the longest day of my life.