Libya: The Turkish Problem


April 5, 2021: It’s been two months since the two rival Libyan governments agreed on a merger, and Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh was selected by the GNA (UN created Government of National Accord) and HoR (the last elected government that disagreed with the formation of the GNA) factions to head (as prime minister) the unified GNU (Government of National Unity). Dbeibeh is from Misrata, where he was born in 1959, and was educated in Canadian universities before returning to become a successful businessman in the 1980s. During the 2011 revolution Dbeibeh favored the Moslem Brotherhood but was perceived as doing so mainly to protect his family and business interests. He is known to have used corrupt behavior to keep his businesses going during the decade of fighting but is trusted enough to form the temporary government and attempt to organize the December elections.

The GNU prime minister is establishing 26 new government ministries and moving the GNU capital to Sirte. The composition of the GNU security forces is still unsettled, as is the status of foreign troops, especially the hated Turks. A related issue is the legality of the treaty the GNA (Government of National Accord), signed with the Turks in late 2019. This agreement has Libya and Turkey agreeing to claim and exploit offshore oil and gas discoveries in the waters between Libya and Turkey. Even the UN opposes this deal because it violates numerous treaties that have established rules for how this division of offshore resources is done. The GNA-Turkey deal is similar to the claims China is making in the South China Sea. Greece refuses to negotiate with the Turks over this and is instead appealing to the UN and international tribunals that handle such disputes. China was tried this way over its South China Sea claims and ignored the ruling that  China had acted illegally. Turkey is no China and does now have the means to enforce its claims and the Greeks (and many Turks) know it. One of those things most Libyans agree on is the importance of getting the Turks out of Libya. The rival HoR (House of Representatives) government in the east, based in Tobruk agreed to the GNU with the understanding that security would be a priority and that the status of LNA (Libyan National Army) founder and leader Khalifa Haftar be “respected”. The Turks, Islamic militias and GNA diehards hate Haftar and want him gone if not imprisoned. Most Libyans oppose that because Haftar suppressed Islamic terrorism in Libya and nearly united the country under the HoR until the GNA made a deal with the Turks. To further complicate matters the HoR has long been supported by Russia, Egypt and the Gulf Arabs while the GNA has received support from Iran. The Turks have also worked with Iran in Syria and against Kurdish separatists in general. Both Turkey and Iran support Islamic terrorists when it suits their purposes. The most acceptable solution to the security issue seems to be regional security commands that would put Haftar-led forces in charge of security in some regions.

The reality is that the main task of the GNU is to eliminate the independent militias, get the foreign troops out of the country and create a new national army. The HoR already has a version of that with its LNA (Libyan National Army). The LNA still controls most of the country and would have unified Libya by the end of 2020 had not the GNA brought in the Turks and agreed to continue backing Turkey in its dispute with Greece. The UN and most nations in the region consider the Turkish claims and GNA agreement illegal and invalid. The Turks won’t leave unless their GNA treaty is legitimized. Turkey is also threatening war with Greece and generally behaving badly. This is more about Turkish domestic politics than anything else. The current (since 2000) Turkish government is “Islamic” and increasingly unpopular with Turkish voters. This government is facing reverses in upcoming Turkish elections and many Turks fear their government will rig the elections to remain in power and get Turkey involved in foreign wars. These are unpopular with most Turks, which is why the Turks do most of their fighting in Syria, Libya and elsewhere with mercenaries. The Turks are increasingly the main obstacle to units and peace in Libya, as well as Syria and elsewhere.


Libya needs about half a trillion dollars to repair the damage caused by a decade of Islamic terrorism and civil war. Another cause of the damage, and obstacle to raising and spending the reconstruction money, is very high levels of corruption. For most of the last decade Libya has been rated one of the ten most corrupt nations on the planet. Before 2011 Libya was among the twenty most corrupt. With or without a government, Libya has always suffered from exceptionally high levels of corruption. This was especially true since oil was discovered and developed in the 1960s. Before that there was little of economic value in what is now Libya.

After the fall of Kaddafi in 2011 there was more reporting of the details of the corruption in Libya. It was indeed as epic and pervasive as the annual corruption surveys had indicated. Kaddafi maintained some control over the corruption and used that to maintain his rule. This is a common technique in the Middle East, with or without oil wealth. The corruption also makes it difficult to attract foreign aid or investment. Donors and lenders have learned since the 1960s that sending money or goods to a very corrupt area is a waste. The global demand for emergency aid and investment loans is greater than what is available. Donors and lenders increasingly refuse to provide aid or loans to areas where most of it will be stolen.

Such corruption is often exploited by foreign governments seeking favors from current national governments. The favors often include military bases and favorable votes in the UN and other international forums. This made many corrupt politicians in Africa and the Middle East rich during the Cold War, when Russia and Western nations often got into a bidding war to win the allegiance of poor, or simply very corrupt nations with natural resources local officials were willing to sell in return of bribes.

Both China, the West and oil-rich Arab states are willing to provide aid and loans to Libya, but only if certain conditions are met. China has few demands but wants economic and military access as well pro-China foreign policy. China is willing to take its losses in places like Libya, as well as exploiting local corruption go get what China wants. The West wants reduced corruption (including illegal migrants) and the removal of foreign troops, especially the Turks. The Arab oil states want more power for Islam in the new government and help with controlling Iranian and Turkish efforts to gain more control over Moslem states in the region. Israel wants peace, economic ties and cooperation in dealing with Islamic terrorism. Most Libyans agree with the Western, Arab and Israeli conditions. China is a maybe because of the Chinese reputation for doing whatever it takes. Most Libyans also want the foreign troops out and less corruption. On a personal level most Libyans want someone else to go first when it comes to abandoning the many corrupt practices that have long been generally acceptable, or at least tolerated, in Libya.

All of these foreign powers are willing to reopen their embassies and such. That will clarify the local situation for foreigners, which won’t help if all the foreigners see is corruption and mismanagement.

The Democracy Dilemma

There is another major problem. Libya has never been a democracy, but rather a collection of powerful tribes and clans with no national government. For most of recorded history Libya was two or three provinces in one empire or another. Independence came in the late 1940s, after World War II. Modern Libya was initially organized and presided over by a king. That lasted until the 1960s when the king was deposed by military dictator Kaddafi, who ruled until 2011. Since then no one has been in charge. There have been some national agreements to keep the oil facilities operating and oil exported and share the income, but even these are threatened. Libya cannot feed or sustain its six million population without the oil income. Take away the oil and Libya revert to its historical status as 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.

April 4, 2021: So far this year there has been little fighting in Libya. The Turks try to maneuver their forces into more favorable locations in case there is a resumption of fighting, but have only threatened violence against LNA forces that block some of the Turkish maneuvers. Militias are another matter and the Turks and the LNA continue to go after any troublesome militias. In turn the militias have learned to avoid provoking the Turks or the LNA. Most of the recent casualties have come from assignations or tribal/ethnic feuds will not wait for the promised new legal system to deal with such matters in courts.

April 3, 2021: Israeli government personnel travelled to Libya to meet with Saddam Haftar, oldest son of LNA leader and founder Khalifa Haftar. The Israelis have followed the Libya situation closely for decades and see the upcoming national elections as an opportunity to add Libya to the growing list of Arab countries establishing political and economic relationships with Israel.

Saddam Haftar is one of the many candidates in the upcoming presidential elections, as is Seif al Islam Kaddafi, a son of the former dictator. This would be an ironic match because Saddam Haftar’s father Khalifa was once a colonel in Kaddafi’s army, but disagreed with Kaddafi and fled to the United States in 1990 with the help of the CIA. When the Libyan revolution broke out in 2011 Haftar returned to Libya and joined the rebels. Khalifa Haftar is not a candidate for president and never expressed an interest in the job. He is 78 years old and in poor health but still active with the LNA, which two of his sons have joined as officers.

The first post-Kaddafi elections in 2012 had nearly three million people voting. Many Libyans have fled the country since 2012, or have given up on elections and just want peace. They might even elect Seif Kaddafi, who never held a government job and was considered the “good son” of the former dictator. Seif Kaddafi is also a candidate for president, even though he is wanted by the ICC for 2011 war crimes. Seif Kaddafi was tried and convicted by a GNA court but later freed and granted full amnesty by HoR (at the behest of Haftar). Kaddafi still has a lot of fans among tribes that he favored in return for support. That system worked until it didn’t in 2011 when the “Arab Spring” inspired young Arabs throughout the Middle East to replace their corrupt and unelected leaders. The worked better as an idea than as an achievable goal.

By 2018 the UN admitted they ignored the complexity of local politics in Libya and the ability of many local groups to block a nation-wide deal. It turned out that the HoR and their military leader Khalifa Haftar had a lot more nationwide support than the UN or GNA realized or wanted to admit. HoR also had the LNA which has been demonized by many Europeans for a number of reasons most Libyans and Arab nations disagree with. The LNA was created by Haftar and is the only organized and disciplined military force in the country. The LNA was initially founded in 2013 to shut down Islamic terrorist groups and Libyan militias that supported them in eastern Libya. In contrast the GNA tried to build a national government with the support of militias, many of them supporting a new government using Islamic (Sharia) law and most Libyans had had enough of that because it was a tactic the former dictator Kaddafi has used to rule the country for decades until the 2011 revolution killed him and destroyed his hated government.

March 31, 2021: The NOC (National Oil Corporation) announced that their income was now adequate to keep production going for the rest of 2021 and to begin the massive effort to catch up on delayed maintenance and upgrades to oil facilities. That will require foreign loans as well as stable oil prices and political stability in Libya.

Since 2019 the LNA has established reliable security for all oil facilities. By the end of 2020 o il production had risen from 800,000 to 1.2 million BPD (barrels per day). In August 2020 the LNA ordered preparations for oil exports to resume and that happened more rapidly than expected. At that time the NOC expected to have production to nearly two million BPD by the end of 2021. Production is currently 1.2 million BPD and a realistic goal for the end of 2021 is 1.4 million BPD and 1.6 million by the end of 2022. The production level before the 2011 civil war began was 1.6 million BPD. Oil exports resumed in October 2020, despite threats from some militias near ports to shut that down if the militias did not receive more money for protecting the ports from other militias. The LNA was able to quickly deal with these threats. Production estimates depend on the success of the December national elections and maintaining the peace nationwide.

March 8, 2021: Turkey claims that a Turkish-Egyptian peace deal is possible if Egypt is willing to cooperate on solving, to Turkey’s satisfaction, the current disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean, Libya, and Israel (the Palestinians). Currently Egypt opposes Turkish claims on Greek offshore waters (where they may be oil and natural gas) and the presence of Turkish troops and mercenaries in neighboring Libya. Egypt and Israel cooperate in dealing with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and Palestinian terrorism. Turkey favors the Moslem Brotherhood, which is currently one of the Islamic terrorist threats in Egypt. Libya and Egypt were both once provinces of the defunct (since 1921) Ottoman Turk empire and neither regards Ottoman rule with any fondness.

So far, the Turks have refused to leave until all their conditions are met and doing that would put Libya at odds with the West and most Middle Eastern nations. Turkey is having problems with its Syrian Arab mercenaries in Libya and back in Syria. The mercs are angry over Turkish policies in Syria, where the Turks are not helping much to achieve an end to the ten-year-old civil war there. The Syrian mercs are literally in it for the money, which the Turks provide on time. But when it comes to peace in Syria, the Turks are unsure because Turkish goals in Syria are more about Turkey than Syria.

China is more flexible in such matters and will do business with whoever ends up running Libya.




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