The EU’s de facto policy is to let migrants drown to stop others coming

Anders Lustgarten writes: In the desert, the smugglers lace their water with petrol so the smuggled won’t gulp it down and cost more. Sometimes the trucks they’re packed into stall crossing the Sahara; they have to jump out to push, and some are left behind when the trucks drive off again. In transit camps in Libya before the perilous venture across the Blue Desert, they play football, fight, and pool their scanty resources so an even poorer friend can pay his way. One man says his tiny wooden boat was flanked by dolphins as they made the journey, three on each side, like guardian angels, and this was what gave him hope.

These are the people we are allowing to die in the Mediterranean. The EU’s de facto policy is to let migrants drown to stop others coming. Last year nearly four thousand bodies were recovered from the Med. Those are just the ones we found. The total number of arrivals in Italy in 2014 went up over 300% from the year before, to more than 170,000. And the EU’s response, driven by the cruellest British government in living memory, was to cut the main rescue operation, Mare Nostrum.

The inevitable result is that 500 people have already died this year. The figure for the equivalent period in 2014 was 15. There are half a million people in Libya waiting to make the crossing. How many more deaths can we stomach?

Migration illustrates one of the signal features of modern life, which is malice by proxy. Like drones and derivatives, migration policy allows the powerful to inflict horrors on the powerless without getting their hands dirty. [Continue reading…]


Libya migrants: Hundreds feared drowned in Mediterranean

BBC News: About 400 migrants are feared drowned after their boat capsized off Libya, survivors have told Save the Children.

The Italian coast guard rescued 144 people from the boat on Monday and launched an air and sea search operation in hopes of saving others.

Hundreds more migrants rescued from boats in the Mediterranean are due to arrive in Sicily during the day.

More than 8,000 migrants have been picked up since Friday, and more boats are heading for the Italian coast.


Spiritual leader of Libya’s biggest jihadi group pledges allegiance to ISIS

Newsweek reports: Ansar al-Sharia, the top jihadi group in the civil war-torn country of Libya, has edged closer to pledging allegiance to ISIS after its spiritual leader and top judge, Abu Abdullah al-Libi, defected to the radical group, according to an audio message released by the terror group.

On Sunday, al-Libi – who was Ansar al-Sharia’s Shari’i (or judge) – confirmed his departure from the jihadi group when he tweeted a picture of a book entitled The Legal Validity of Pledging Allegiance to the Islamic State, along with the caption “Soon, God willing”.

In an audio message released on ISIS-controlled radio in the central Libyan city of Sirte last week, ISIS accepted al-Libi’s pledge of allegiance to the group’s caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. [Continue reading…]


One of Libya’s rival governments moves to control oil revenue

The New York Times reports: One of the two factions battling for control of Libya took steps on Sunday to divert incoming oil revenue away from the central bank and into its own new account, a steep escalation in the contest over the country’s vast wealth.

Libya’s oil and money are the prizes that have driven much of the competition among militias and factions in the nearly four years since the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and as the fighting on the ground has slashed oil revenues, the legal and political battle for control of Libya’s assets has become overt and intense.

Over the past nine months, the many local militias that sprang up around Colonel Qaddafi have now broken into two warring coalitions, each with its own provisional government. Officials of the Central Bank of Libya, which holds the country’s roughly $90 billion in foreign reserves and receives the income of the National Oil Corporation, say they have tried to stay neutral, continuing to pay government salaries and consumer subsidies in the territory controlled by the rival governments.

But the faction that is recognized internationally as Libya’s legitimate government, now based in the eastern cities of Tobruk and Bayda, has repeatedly sought without success to exert control over those assets. On Sunday it fired the latest salvo in that battle.

That government’s prime minister, Abdullah al-Thinni, issued a directive for the National Oil Company to stop passing incoming revenue to the central bank and instead to direct those funds to its own bank account in the United Arab Emirates, a major backer of Mr. Thinni’s government and its faction.

The move could now set off a host of sweeping consequences, potentially including a breakup of the bank, a drastic rebalancing of what has appeared to be a stalemate in the day-to-day battle between the two factions or a Western intervention to seize and manage the bank’s foreign reserves.

But how the situation might play out is difficult to predict, in part because the prime minister’s directive appeared to contradict the position of the Western powers toward the status of the bank and the larger Libyan conflict. [Continue reading…]


Four active Arab wars stem from a common malaise

Rami G. Khouri writes: The latest war in the Middle East, the Saudi Arabian-led assault on Yemen to prevent the Houthi movement from taking full control of the country, has triggered a fascinating legal and ideological debate about the legitimacy and efficacy of the venture. The significance of this war in Yemen is not really about the legally authorized use of force to ensure a calm Arab future. It is, rather, mainly a testament to the marginalization of the rule of law in many Arab countries in our recent past.

The 10 Arab and Asian countries participating in the fighting have justified it on the basis of assorted legal mechanisms through the Arab League, the United Nations Charter and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which allow countries to come to the life-saving aid of governments threatened by domestic or foreign aggression. The more meaningful and lasting dimension of the Yemen conflict is its expansion of active warfare in collapsing states adjacent to the energy-rich region of the Arabian Peninsula.

I am sickened but mesmerized by the nightly routine of flipping through assorted pan-Arab satellite television channels and following the four active wars that now define many aspects of the Arab world – in Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq – with lower intensity fighting and destruction in countries such as Somalia, Egypt, Sudan and Lebanon. In all these fractured lands, violent extremists such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS have put down anchorage and are operating across borders.

The capacity for warfare and other forms of political violence across the region seems unending, just as the mass suffering of civilians seems unlimited. The telltale signs of what these wars are about and why they happen so regularly is evident on the television screens in the human and physical landscapes that are slowly crumbling here and there.

The two most striking images that stay in my mind as I follow the day’s fighting in our four active wars is the primitive condition of our cities and villages, and the equally ravaged condition of our human capital. Streets and sidewalks are caricatures of what they should be, buildings are often simple, unpainted cement block structures with usually informal associations with such amenities as water and electricity. Individuals are often shabbily dressed and drive dilapidated pickup trucks and beat-up old sedans, because they do not have the money to buy anything better. This is not a consequence of the wars; it is the cause of the wars. [Continue reading…]


ISIS’s strategy in Libya

Kevin Casey and Stacey Pollard write: Early media coverage of the Islamic State (IS) in Libya has centered on the group’s swift seizure of territory and the expansion of the caliphate’s authority into an increasingly lawless Libya. Yet IS’s efforts in the North African state have not lived up to these fears, as the organization — once thought to command control of cities such as Derna and Sirte — remains only one of many factions vying for power in these areas.

This does not mean the Islamic State is failing in Libya — indeed its trajectory inside Libya is mirroring its Iraq strategy, which sought to maximize its local competitive advantages. The group’s shift of gravity from Derna to Sirte is a highly deliberate strategic decision based on the assumption that Sirte provides greater opportunities for the group than Derna does.

But unlike Iraq and Syria, Libya is missing some of the key conditions that allowed for the group’s rapid gains in the Levant last summer. Namely, it lacks enduring ties to influential Libyan tribes and social groups, and Libya has no strong sectarian divide or a common enemy around which to rally a community. Thus, the Islamic State’s strategy in Libya seems to be directed instead at hastening state failure and fracturing the population’s sense of common nationhood. Meanwhile, it is also intensifying the conditions that will allow it to deepen its influence and form a national-religious identity in line with the caliphate’s own views. [Continue reading…]


U.S. fears ISIS is making serious inroads in Libya

Reuters: The United States is increasingly concerned about the growing presence and influence of the Syria-based Islamic State movement in Libya, according to U.S. officials and a State Department report.

The officials said what they called “senior” Islamic State leaders had traveled to the country, which is whacked by civil war, to help recruit and organize militants, particularly in the cities of Derna and Sirte.

Since late January, Islamic State militants have carried out attacks, including a car bombing and siege at the Corinthia, a luxury hotel in Tripoli, and an attack on the Mabruk oilfield south of Sirte, according to a report circulated this week by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Bureau.

The militants also posted on the Web images of the beheading of 21 abducted Egyptian Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach.

The State Department document said estimates of the number of Islamic State fighters operating in Libya ranged from 1000 to 3000.


Rising out of chaos: ISIS in Libya

Frederic Wehrey and Ala’ Alrababa’h write: Recent attacks in Libya by the so-called Islamic State, including the brutal slaughter of Egyptian Copts, the Corinthia Hotel attacks, car bombings in Qubbah that killed at least 45 people, and an attack on the Iranian embassy, have brought the spread of extremism in Libya to the forefront. While the Islamic State has intensified its activity in recent weeks, its spread into Libya began early in 2014 as Libyan jihadists began to return from Syria.

Jihadi groups in Libya were already deeply fragmented and localized, but the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2013 and 2014 sparked new debates, eventually dividing the Libyan jihadis between supporters of the Islamic State and supporters of al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates—mainly al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in North Africa and the Nusra Front in Syria.

Libyans had already begun traveling to fight in Syria in 2011, joining existing jihadi factions or starting their own. In 2012, one group of Libyans in Syria declared the establishment of the Battar Brigade in a statement laden with anti-Shia sectarianism. The Battar Brigade founders also thanked “the citizens of Derna,” a city in northeastern Libya long known as a hotbed of radical Islamism, for their support for the struggle in Syria. [Continue reading…]


Libya declares 11 oil fields closed after ISIS attacks

The Associated Press: Libya’s state-run oil corporation has declared 11 oil fields in the country non-operational after attacks by suspected Islamic State militants, opting for a force majeure clause that exempts the state from contractual obligations.

The National Oil Corporation blamed Islamist-backed authorities in the capital Tripoli for failing to protect the oil fields. The statement, issued late Wednesday, said “theft, looting, sabotage and destruction” of the oil fields have been on the rise despite pleas for the authorities to ensure the safety of Libya’s oil installations.

“If security deteriorates, the corporation will be forced to close all fields and ports, which will result in a total deficit in state revenues and directly impact people’s live, including with power outage,” the statement said. It urged the country’s feuding political factions to “put state interest above all and stand together against destruction.”


Libya’s revolution and its aftermath

Nicolas Pelham writes: As in the time of Qaddafi, words and reality in postrevolutionary Libya often seem to inhabit separate spheres. Twenty minutes before landing in Tripoli, women returning from Egypt drape their highlighted hair and designer jeans in black cloth. The women at passport control have gone, and the man in charge of immigration is the one with the bushiest beard. Inside the city, Muslim iconoclasts are purging the capital of its colonial-era images. Soon after capturing the capital in August, they fired a shell through the belly of the Bride of the Sea, a sculpture of a bare-breasted mermaid entwined with a tender gazelle, which since Italian times had served as a backdrop for wedding photos. And last month they stole the sculpture itself. Herati only got it back because the thieves could be traced by the cameras Qaddafi hid in the capital’s roadside trees. For now, though, he says, it is safer for it to remain under wraps.

Other monuments in the capital are disappearing too. The three tombs of Ottoman mystics that graced the entrance of the eighteenth-century Ahmed Pasha Qaramanli mosque at the entrance of the souk have been smashed, and replaced with an already overgrown patch of grass. Islamists have snapped off the antique Koranic inscriptions in the souk’s other old mosques, lest believers be led astray into polytheism by venerating the ornaments instead of God alone.

Libya Dawn’s officials blame the attacks on the local followers of a Saudi scholar, Rabi’ al-Mudkhali. He works, says an official, with Saudi intelligence, seeking to tarnish the name of Islamist groups that do not follow Saudi’s puritanical doctrines or more importantly their politics. Others suggest that acolytes of Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State, or ISIS, are finding a foothold thanks to Libya Dawn’s relaxed approach to Islamic extremists. I failed to find evidence of the Islamic State cadres that had been reported in Tripoli, but cafés frequented by couples have been torched and embassies car-bombed. A couple of days after I left Tripoli, a gunman shot dead an unveiled woman driving home near the city center. Lest anyone be tempted to investigate, in mid-November Libya Dawn raided the National Commission for Human Rights, seized its database, and padlocked its doors. [Continue reading…]


Libya militias said to capture chemical weapons

Asharq Al-Awsat reports: Militias in Libya have seized chemical weapons from arsenals located in the southern and central provinces of the country that used to belong to former leader Muammar Gaddafi, military sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

A Libyan military official who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity said: “Unfortunately [chemical weapons] exist in locations known to the militias, who have seized large amounts of them to use in their war against the [Libyan] army.”

The military official warned that the caches, which contain deadly chemicals such as mustard gas and the nerve agent Sarin, may fall into the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The quantity of chemical weapons taken is not known. [Continue reading…]


ISIS’s dangerous gains in Libya

Der Spiegel reports: The men sitting in Café L’Aurora in Tripoli stare silently into the smartphone Najib Ali is holding in his hand. They’re watching a horrific video depicting the decapitation of 21 Egyptian Christians, probably on the beach at Sirte. The victims are wearing orange overalls while their Islamic State (IS) killers are clad in black. The men in the café have already seen the video numerous times and yet they continue to watch it, looking for any details that might indicate the horrific acts didn’t really happen.

“Have you ever seen a Libyan that tall?” one asks. And what about the professional camera work? “A major power has to be behind it.” And how could Sirte, the hometown of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi, suddenly come under Islamic State rule? The release of the video on Sunday, Feb. 15, shortly before the fourth anniversary of the insurgency against Gadhafi, has led many Libyans to react reflexively with desperate denials of reality.

The truth is that Libya is well on its way to becoming a failed state — making it the perfect prey for IS. Furthermore, Libya is close to Italy, has plenty of oil and offers a possible corridor to Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as to Islamists in Mali and in the Sahara. Indeed, if IS succeeds in solidifying its presence here, the terrorists could pose a threat to Southern Europe in addition to destabilizing all of North Africa. [Continue reading…]


U.S. won’t back Egypt’s attacks on ISIS

Nancy A. Youssef reports: The Obama administration was given multiple chances Wednesday to endorse a longtime ally’s airstrikes on America’s biggest enemy at the moment, the so-called Islamic State. Over and over again, Obama’s aides declined to back Egypt’s military operation against ISIS. It’s another sign of the growing strain between the United States and Egypt, once one of its closest friends in the Middle East.

This shouldn’t be a complete surprise; Cairo, after all, didn’t tell Washington about its strikes on the ISIS hotbed of Derna, Libya. Still, Wednesday’s disconnect was jarring. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest passed on a reporter’s question about an endorsement of Egypt’s growing campaign against ISIS. So did State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“We are neither condemning nor condoning” the Egyptian strikes, is all one U.S. official would tell The Daily Beast.

In other words, these once-close nations are now fighting separate campaigns against their mutual foe. And that could prove to be very good news for ISIS. The rift between U.S. and the region’s most populous country portends of another division that ISIS could exploit, this time for its expansion into northern Africa and the broader Middle East. [Continue reading…]


Four years after the Libyan revolution

On February 23, 2011, CNN’s Ben Wedeman gave this report from a rally in Benghazi:

Some of us are suckers for these kinds of expression of “people power,” but for Glenn Greenwald and other prescient anti-interventionists, such scenes of joy must have been deeply depressing.

How could the Libyans (and those of us who supported their revolution) be so foolish as to not understand that they were hoping for too much if they imagined they might be entitled to the peace and freedom we in the West take for granted?

Less than a month later, as Gaddafi’s forces advanced on Benghazi, its residents warned of an impending bloodbath and appealed for international intervention. Their call was answered by NATO.

But just over two years later, Alan Kuperman, after gazing into his special crystal ball that reveals alternative futures, confidently asserted that “there was virtually no risk of such an outcome” — contrary to its residents fears, Benghazi was never really in danger, said the Texas-based scholar.

Again we were reminded of how ill-equipped ordinary Libyans are to recognize their own interests.

Some observers might think it’s hard to be sure what would have happened to Libya had NATO not intervened. Prophet Kuperman suffers no such doubts:

The biggest misconception about NATO’s intervention is that it saved lives and benefited Libya and its neighbors. In reality, when NATO intervened in mid-March 2011, Qaddafi already had regained control of most of Libya, while the rebels were retreating rapidly toward Egypt. Thus, the conflict was about to end, barely six weeks after it started, at a toll of about 1,000 dead, including soldiers, rebels, and civilians caught in the crossfire. By intervening, NATO enabled the rebels to resume their attack, which prolonged the war for another seven months and caused at least 7,000 more deaths.

Anti-interventionists such as Greenwald, believe that from the vantage point of the intervention’s architects, it was not actually a failure, since the secret motive of all such policies is — so he says — to create a justification for endless war.

[T]here is no question that U.S. militarism constantly strengthens exactly that which it is pitched as trying to prevent, and ensures that the U.S. government never loses its supply of reasons to continue its endless war.

Far from serving as a model, this Libya intervention should severely discredit the core selling point of so-called “humanitarian wars.” Some non-governmental advocates of “humanitarian war” may be motivated by the noble aims they invoke, but humanitarianism is simply not why governments fight wars; that is just the pretty wrapping used to sell them.

From both inside and outside Libya, there are now renewed calls for intervention, this time to thwart the rise of ISIS following the group’s latest atrocity.

Anti-interventionists, ever true to their convictions, presumably believe that no intervention is justifiable or could conceivably help.

But given that such a conviction must be based on an uncanny ability to foresee the future, why wait until the future is past to tell us what it might have been? Why not tell us all now what will happen if the world’s leaders follow your wise counsel?

Anti-interventionists might believe that it is their destiny to be ignored, but that really isn’t true. In 2011 they warned that Libya would set a dangerous precedent — that similar interventions were bound to follow the so-called Libya model. First Libya, next Syria.

It didn’t happen. Indeed, Syria can really be heralded as a triumph of anti-interventionism. Not even the use of chemical weapons was enough to trigger U.S. missile strikes. And once Obama finally mustered a nominal coalition of military forces, it wasn’t with the aim of toppling the regime. Instead they have become de facto allies of Assad, in a combined effort to push back ISIS.

If the lesson from Libya was that dictatorial rule is not such a bad thing, then Washington’s relations with Damascus and Cairo indicate that it has already taken many of the anti-interventionists’ cautions to heart.

Both in the U.S. and Europe, anti-interventionism, seemingly unbeknown to its loudest advocates, is altogether mainstream. In the aftermath of Iraq and Libya, Western governments are far from trigger-happy.

Italy’s Premier Matteo Renzi in spite of ISIS’s presence a stone’s throw across the Mediterranean, now says: “It’s not the time for a military intervention.”

“Wisdom, prudence and a sense of the situation is needed with regards to Libya,” Renzi said. “But you cannot go from total indifference to hysteria”.

Likewise, the UK has ruled out intervention in Libya “at the moment.”

Such caution may soothe some anti-interventionist fears, but there is little evidence supporting the sentiment behind the anti-interventionist position — that being, that if throwing fuel on the fire makes the fire burn more strongly then the converse will necessarily be true.

Sometimes it will be true and at others it will not, but those who refuse to remove their ideological blinkers will find it impossible to differentiate one case from the other.


Libya’s Arab spring: The revolution that ate its children

Chris Stephen reports: “It was better under Gaddafi,” says the young Libyan student, studying the froth bubbling over the top of his cappuccino in a cafe in Tunis as he contemplates the revolution that swept Muammar Gaddafi from power four years ago. “I never thought to say this before, I hated him, but things were better then. At least we had security.”

Tuesday marks the fourth anniversary of that revolution but nobody is celebrating. Egyptian air strikes now hammering Islamic State positions in the east of the country, in response to the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians, is a further twist in an already grim civil war. Four years ago the student picked up a gun and joined rebel militias. Now he wishes he had stayed home.

“If I had that time again, I would not join [the rebels],” he says. Like many of his former comrades, he has left the country, but won’t give his name, fearing retribution against his family back home.

“In the past, we would have a party for the anniversary of the revolution, but not this time,” says Ashraf Abdul-Wahab, a journalist. “A lot of people tell you it was better under Gaddafi, that the revolution was a mistake. What they mean is, things are worse now than they were then.”

Libya’s Arab spring was a bloody affair, ending with the killing of Gaddafi, one of the world’s most ruthless dictators. His death saw the rebel militias turn on each other in a mosaic of turf wars. Full-scale civil war came last summer, when Islamist parties saw sharp defeats in elections the United Nations had supervised, in the hope of bringing peace to the country. Islamists and their allies rebelled against the elected parliament and formed the Libya Dawn coalition, which seized Tripoli. The new government fled to the eastern city of Tobruk and fighting has since raged across the country.

With thousands dead, towns smashed and 400,000 homeless, the big winner is Isis, which has expanded fast amid the chaos. Egypt, already the chief backer of government forces, has now joined a three-way war between government, Libya Dawn and Isis.

It is all a long way from the hopes of the original revolutionaries. With Africa’s largest oil reserves and just six million people to share the bounty, Libya in 2011 appeared set for a bright future. “We thought we would be the new Dubai, we had everything,” says a young activist who, like the student, prefers not to give her name. “Now we are more realistic.”

Just why Libya’s Arab spring went so badly wrong is a matter of hot debate. Some blame Nato for not following up with political support after its air campaign; some argue that it was the lack of institutions to make democracy work, or Libya’s atomised tribal structure that makes cooperation hard and magnifies distrust. Many have simply given up.

“So many of the revolutionaries of four years ago have gone to ground, they have fled, ” says Michel Cousins, editor of the English-language Libya Herald newspaper. “They say a revolution eats its children.” [Continue reading…]


Fear and silence in Libya as divisions deepen

Reuters reports: On the surface life looks normal in the Libyan capital. Cafes are bustling with customers sipping cappuccino, while well-stocked shops sell anything from Italian underwear to French cheese.

But as in the days of Muammar Gaddafi, many residents prefer to avoid talking politics in Tripoli, where a self-declared government has ruled since an armed faction called Libya Dawn seized the capital by expelling its rivals in August.

Across Libya to the east, where the internationally recognised government operates and a former general is battling Islamist militants, many Libyans are just as wary, fearing any criticism will see them branded as traitors or worse.

The oil-producing nation is now effectively split in two with the internationally recognised Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni confined to the east since losing control of Tripoli and a rival administration controlling the capital and its surroundings.

Both governments are backed by former rebel brigades who united to topple Gaddafi in 2011 but have since turned their guns on each other as Libya slides toward a wider civil war.

The heavily armed groups have been fighting on different fronts for territory and control of oil ports. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and 400,000 displaced inside Libya since the summer, according to the United Nations.

With the country polarized between the two rival factions who dismiss each other as traitors, terrorists or war criminals, many Libyans explain that, as in the Gaddafi era, it’s best to say little and avoid trouble. [Continue reading…]


Warning that Libya could become Somalia on the Mediterranean

Ian Black writes: International efforts to resolve the crisis in Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi must forge agreement between the warring parties to forestall the emergence of a failed state that could become a “Somalia on the Mediterranean”, the UK government’s special envoy has urged.

Jonathan Powell, a veteran of the Northern Ireland peace process, warned in an interview that violent chaos in Libya will spread to its neighbours and to Europe and Britain if left unchecked.

Powell was speaking before news emerged on Sunday of the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians by Islamic State (Isis) fighters near Sirte and Monday’s retaliatory bombing raids by the Egyptian air force on Isis training locations and weapons stockpiles in Libya. [Continue reading…]


Egypt seeks UN backing for air strikes against ISIS in Libya

The Guardian: Egypt has called for a UN-backed international intervention in Libya after launching air strikes on Islamic State targets following the murder of 21 Egyptian Christians.

The country’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, said in an interview aired by France’s Europe 1 radio that there was no choice but to create a global coalition to confront the extremists in Libya.

Egypt’s top diplomat is in New York to seek backing for military intervention from UN security council members. On Monday Egypt’s armed forces announced F-16 strikes on Isis weapons caches and training camps – the first time Egypt has acknowledged any kind of military intervention in its increasingly chaotic and violent western neighbour.