Libya: Payback Time

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November 14, 2011: For the last week or so, young rebels from the port city of Zawiya (50 kilometers west of Tripoli) have been fighting groups of men from the local Wershifanna tribe. There have been over a hundred casualties. The rebel fighters accuse the Wershifanna men of having fought for Kaddafi (some did, as the Wershifanna benefitted from living in the Tripoli area and serving Kaddafi). But some Wershifanna were rebels, and there are Wershifanna representatives on the NTC (National Transitional Council) that now (sort of) runs the country. While the representatives of the Zawiya rebels and the Wershifanna on the NTC can agree on a peace deal, they are having a hard time selling it to the young guys out on the coast road who have been shooting at each other.

The town of Zawiya was a rebel stronghold in the midst of a region that was largely pro-Kaddafi. The rebels held all or part of Zawiya throughout the war. Zawiya controls the road from Tripoli to Tunisia. This was a key supply line for Kaddafi, and the rebels made it largely unusable. The rebel defenders of Zawiya suffered a lot and some of them want payback from their former foes. The Zawiya rebels are going into neighborhoods they know (or believe) Wershifanna live and stealing vehicles, and anything else that strikes their fancy. The local armed Wershifanna resisted and the battles began. A more immediate source of dispute is possession of a major military base. The rebels believe it is theirs by right of conquest, while the Wershifanna point out that it is in their tribal territory. It is believed that there are rebel fighters on both sides of this one.

There have been several other disputes between armed groups, but most are resolved, or at least delayed, without gunfire. There are thousands of rebel gunmen who lost family or friends in the fighting, along with economic loss (home, business or vehicle destroyed) and are looking for revenge and restitution. For the last month, rebels have often sought bloody revenge from Kaddafi supporters, some of whom are still armed. The Kaddafi fans have fallen back on their tribal organizations, and there is a tradition of calling up large numbers of armed men to defend the tribe.

The NTC has announced that it will disarm (or at least disband) the dozens of rebel militias and create security forces (police and military). But actually doing this is complicated by the tribal militias and growing number of "payback" attacks on real or imagined Kaddafi supporters. Restoring law and order is going to be very difficult, especially since Kaddafi maintained order largely with secret police and deals with tribal leaders.

Oil production is up to about 35 percent of its pre-war level of 1.7 million barrels a day. About ten percent of the oil facilities were damaged during the rebellion, and repairs won't be complete for another 6-8 months. Oil shipments are expected to pass 50 percent of the pre-war level before the end of the year. Local refineries are going again, reducing fuel shortages. Exports are bringing in over $40 million a day, which is going to reconstruction and the generous social welfare payments that Kaddafi believed would keep him in power indefinitely.

The cash shortage means the NTC cannot pay for armed men to be sent to the many weapons depots, to guard them and prevent arms smugglers from carting off the stuff for resale. Foreign governments are demanding better security, and the NTC is hinting that some foreign aid for this specific problem would be appropriate.

November 12, 2011: Niger has decided to give asylum to Kaddafi son Saadi. Another son, Seif al Islam is believed to be somewhere out in the southern Libya desert, trying to make his way to the Niger border. Both sons are wanted for war crimes.

November 6, 2011: A convoy of vehicles from Libya was intercepted in northern Niger, near the Algerian border. A gun battle ensued, leaving 13 people from the convoy dead and one soldier wounded. Thirteen people were captured and it was confirmed that the several dozen people in the convoy were Libyans being guided by Tuareg tribesmen from Mali. Thousands of pro-Kaddafi Libyans have followed this route, and Niger is turning back those who cannot pay their own way. Niger does not want to host a lot of broke and angry Libyans. Niger also wants to avoid becoming a base for a pro-Kaddafi guerilla war in Libya. Niger is already taking a lot of diplomatic heat for granting asylum to Kaddafi officials.

November 4, 2011:  NATO weapons inspectors have found Kaddafi-era chemical weapons (mustard gas), some of which were being destroyed according to international treaty. These weapons, which were invented during World War I (1914-18) were never used by Libya, and no seems to have tried to steal any of them during the chaos of the revolution. However, it's unclear if all the chemical weapons being found had previously been "declared" by Kaddafi (in 2004) and scheduled for destruction (by May 15th of this year). If there are undeclared chemical weapons, there may be a lot of them, and some of them may be still hidden.

October 31, 2011: NATO ended their air campaign over Libya, after seven months. Some 26,000 sorties were flown, nearly 40 percent of them combat missions. The NTC wanted the mission extended a few more weeks, but NATO refused.

October 27, 2011:  In neighboring Tunisia, a moderate Islamist party won control of parliament and will form a government. The Islamic groups in Libya are also maneuvering to gain control of the new Libyan government. Elections are to be held within the year. So far, the Islamic groups have not made any overt move to take control. While prominent among the rebel militias, the Islamic radicals are not particularly popular in Libya.

October 25, 2011: Moamar Kaddafi and his son Motassim were buried in a secret, unmarked desert grave.

 

 

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