New details emerge of Libya’s claim against Goldman Sachs

n13-iconEuromoney: A year ago, Euromoney reported that the Libyan Investment Authority was preparing litigation against Goldman Sachs for disastrous trades the US bank had put the Libyan sovereign wealth fund into in early 2008.

Nothing happens fast in Libya, and the top management of the fund has changed since our story. But on January 28, its lawyers lodged a claim at London’s High Court, accusing Goldman of “deliberately exploit[ing] the relationship of trust and confidence it has established with the LIA.”

Euromoney has seen the Particulars of Claim document lodged with the High Court by Simon Twigden, a partner and commercial dispute resolution expert at Enyo Law, on the LIA’s behalf. It makes savage reading for Goldman; it says that equity derivatives trades implemented by the bank lost the fund more than $1 billion while earning Goldman $350 million in profits.

After incurring these losses, Libya asked Goldman for a remedy. In May, 2009, the bank suggested that Libya recoup its losses by investing $3.7 billion in Goldman.

Matt Levine writes: You get the sneaking suspicion that there’s a terrible story here, that there’s a gambler’s-fallacy sense that, since you lost a lot of money on risky bets, the only thing to do is to put even more money on even riskier bets.
You see what’s going on there? Libya pays Goldman $3.7 billion and in return gets securities with “THESE SECURITIES ARE WORTH $5 BILLION” on the front of them. Guess how much those securities are worth? If you guessed $3.7 billion … there’s a decent chance that you’re too high? I dunno. If you guessed $5 billion you should be kept well away from money.

Libya said no; they “prodded Goldman to recoup their losses faster” and “also worried about whether it was wise to invest in Goldman given the collapse of Lehman.”


Studying ritual in order to understand politics in Libya

When I was an undergraduate, early on I learned about the value of interdisciplinary studies. Had I been on a conventional academic track, that probably wouldn’t have happened, but I was lucky enough to be in a department that brought together anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, theologians, and religious studies scholars. In such an environment, the sharp defense of disciplinary turf was not only unwelcome — it simply made no sense.

Even so, universities remain structurally antagonistic to interdisciplinarity, both for intellectual reasons but perhaps more than anything for professional reasons. Anyone who wants to set themselves on a track towards tenure needs to get published and academic journals all fall within and help sustain disciplinary boundaries.

I mention this because when questions are raised such as what’s happening in Libya? or the more loaded, what’s gone wrong in Libya? the range of experts who get called on to respond, tends to be quite limited. There will be regional experts, political scientists, and perhaps economists. But calling on someone with an understanding of the human function of ritual along with the role different forms of ritual may have had in the development of civilization, is not an obvious way of trying to gain insight into events in Benghazi.

Moreover, within discourse that is heavily influenced by secular assumptions about the problematic nature of religion and the irrational roots of extremism, there is a social bias in the West that favors a popular dismissal.

What’s wrong with Libya? Those people are nuts.

Philip Weiss helped popularize the expression Progressive Except on Palestine — an accusation that most frequently gets directed at American liberal Zionists. But over the last two years a new variant which is perhaps even more commonplace has proliferated across the Left which with only slight overstatement could be called Progressive Except on the Middle East.

From this perspective, a suspicion of Muslim men with beards — especially those in Libya and Syria — has become a way through which a Clash of Civilizations narrative is unwittingly being reborn. Add to that the influence of the likes of Richard Dawkins and his cohorts on their mission to “decry supernaturalism in all its forms” and what you end up with is a stifling of curiosity — a lack of any genuine interest in trying to understand why people behave the way they do if you’ve already concluded that their behavior is something to be condemned.

A year ago, the science journal Nature, published an article on human rituals, their role in the growth of community and the emergence of civilization.

The report focuses on a global project one of whose principal aims is to test a theory that rituals come in two basic forms: one that through intense and often traumatic experience can forge tight bonds in small groups and the other that provides social cohesion less intensely but on a larger scale through doctrinal unity.

Last week, the State department designated three branches of Ansar al Shariah — two in Libya and one in Tunisia — as terrorist organizations. The information provided gives no indication about how or if the groups are linked beyond the fact that they share the same name — a name used by separate groups in eight different countries.

There’s reason to suspect that the U.S. government is engaged in its own form of ritualistic behavior much like the Spanish Inquisition busily branding heretics.

Maybe if the Obama administration spent a bit more time talking to anthropologists and archeologists rather than political consultants and security advisers, they would be able to develop a more coherent and constructive policy on Libya. I’m not kidding.

In Nature, Dan Jones writes: By July 2011, when Brian McQuinn made the 18-hour boat trip from Malta to the Libyan port of Misrata, the bloody uprising against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi had already been under way for five months.

“The whole city was under siege, with Gaddafi forces on all sides,” recalls Canadian-born McQuinn. He was no stranger to such situations, having spent the previous decade working for peace-building organizations in countries including Rwanda and Bosnia. But this time, as a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Oxford, UK, he was taking the risk for the sake of research. His plan was to make contact with rebel groups and travel with them as they fought, studying how they used ritual to create solidarity and loyalty amid constant violence.

It worked: McQuinn stayed with the rebels for seven months, compiling a strikingly close and personal case study of how rituals evolved through combat and eventual victory. And his work was just one part of a much bigger project: a £3.2-million (US$5-million) investigation into ritual, community and conflict, which is funded until 2016 by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and headed by McQuinn’s supervisor, Oxford anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse.

Rituals are a human universal — “the glue that holds social groups together”, explains Whitehouse, who leads the team of anthropologists, psychologists, historians, economists and archaeologists from 12 universities in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Rituals can vary enormously, from the recitation of prayers in church, to the sometimes violent and humiliating initiations of US college fraternity pledges, to the bleeding of a young man’s penis with bamboo razors and pig incisors in purity rituals among the Ilahita Arapesh of New Guinea. But beneath that diversity, Whitehouse believes, rituals are always about building community — which arguably makes them central to understanding how civilization itself began.

To explore these possibilities, and to tease apart how this social glue works, Whitehouse’s project will combine fieldwork such as McQuinn’s with archaeological digs and laboratory studies around the world, from Vancouver, Canada, to the island archipelago of Vanuatu in the south Pacific Ocean. “This is the most wide-ranging scientific project on rituals attempted to date,” says Scott Atran, director of anthropological research at the CNRS, the French national research organization, in Paris, and an adviser to the project.
Human rites

A major aim of the investigation is to test Whitehouse’s theory that rituals come in two broad types, which have different effects on group bonding. Routine actions such as prayers at church, mosque or synagogue, or the daily pledge of allegiance recited in many US elementary schools, are rituals operating in what Whitehouse calls the ‘doctrinal mode’. He argues that these rituals, which are easily transmitted to children and strangers, are well suited to forging religions, tribes, cities and nations — broad-based communities that do not depend on face-to-face contact.

Rare, traumatic activities such as beating, scarring or self-mutilation, by contrast, are rituals operating in what Whitehouse calls the ‘imagistic mode’. “Traumatic rituals create strong bonds among those who experience them together,” he says, which makes them especially suited to creating small, intensely committed groups such as cults, military platoons or terrorist cells. “With the imagistic mode, we never find groups of the same kind of scale, uniformity, centralization or hierarchical structure that typifies the doctrinal mode,” he says.

Whitehouse has been developing this theory of ‘divergent modes of ritual and religion’ since the late 1980s, based on his field work in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere. His ideas have attracted the attention of psychologists, archaeologists and historians.

Until recently, however, the theory was largely based on selected ethnographic and historical case studies, leaving it open to the charge of cherry-picking. The current rituals project is an effort by Whitehouse and his colleagues to answer that charge with deeper, more systematic data.

The pursuit of such data sent McQuinn to Libya. His strategy was to look at how the defining features of the imagistic and doctrinal modes — emotionally intense experiences shared among a small number of people, compared with routine, daily practices that large numbers of people engage in — fed into the evolution of rebel fighting groups from small bands to large brigades.

At first, says McQuinn, neighbourhood friends formed small groups comprising “the number of people you could fit in a car”. Later, fighters began living together in groups of 25–40 in disused buildings and the mansions of rich supporters. Finally, after Gaddafi’s forces were pushed out of Misrata, much larger and hierarchically organized brigades emerged that patrolled long stretches of the defensive border of the city. There was even a Misratan Union of Revolutionaries, which by November 2011 had registered 236 rebel brigades.

McQuinn interviewed more than 300 fighters from 21 of these rebel groups, which varied in size from 12 to just over 1,000 members. He found that the early, smaller brigades tended to form around pre-existing personal ties, and became more cohesive and the members more committed to each other as they collectively experienced the fear and excitement of fighting a civil war on the streets of Misrata.

But six of the groups evolved into super-brigades of more than 750 fighters, becoming “something more like a corporate entity with their own organizational rituals”, says McQuinn. A number of the group leaders had run successful businesses, and would bring everyone together each day for collective training, briefings and to reiterate their moral codes of conduct — the kinds of routine group activities characteristic of the doctrinal mode. “These daily practices moved people from being ‘our little group’ to ‘everyone training here is part of our group’,” says McQuinn.

McQuinn and Whitehouse’s work with Libyan fighters underscores how small groups can be tightly fused by the shared trauma of war, just as imagistic rituals induce terror to achieve the same effect. Whitehouse says that he is finding the same thing in as-yet-unpublished studies of the scary, painful and humiliating ‘hazing’ rituals of fraternity and sorority houses on US campuses, as well as in surveys of Vietnam veterans showing how shared trauma shaped loyalty to their fellow soldiers. [Continue reading...]

When people talk about nation-building, they talk about the need to establish security, the rule of law and the development of democratic institutions. They focus on political and civil structures through which social stability takes on a recognizable form — the operation for instance of effective court systems and law enforcement authorities that do not abuse their powers. But what makes all this work, or fail to work, is a sufficient level of social cohesion and if that is lacking, the institutional structures will probably be of little value.

Over the last year and a half, American interest in Libya seems to have been reduced to analysis about what happened on one day in Benghazi. But what might help Libya much more than America’s obsessive need to spot terrorists would be to focus instead on things like promoting football. A win for the national team could work wonders.


In the video below, Harvey Whitehouse describes the background to his research.


Gunmen assassinate Libya’s deputy industry minister

Reuters reports: Gunmen killed Libya’s deputy industry minister as he drove home from a shopping trip in the city of Sirte late on Saturday, in an attack officials blamed on hardline Islamist militants.

Libya is still plagued by violence and assassinations more than two years after civil war ousted Muammar Gaddafi. Militants, militias and former rebels often resort to force to impose demands on the fragile government.

The minister, Hassan al-Drowi, was shot several times, a senior security official said, asking not to be identified.

“They opened fire from another car while he was driving, he was shot multiple times,” the official said.

“Later, they found explosives attached to his car. The theory is, the bomb failed, so they shot him instead.”

The official blamed Islamist militants who have been trying to extend their influence in the coastal city of Sirte, which has been more stable recently than the capital Tripoli or the major eastern city of Benghazi.

Sirte was the last bastion of Gaddafi loyalists in the war, and he was killed there on October 20, 2011.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s central government, weakened by infighting and with only nascent armed forces, is struggling to wrest control back from areas where militias are still dominant. [Continue reading...]


The ghosts of Benghazi

David Kirkpatrick reports: Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there [on September 11, 2012] and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

A fuller accounting of the attacks suggests lessons for the United States that go well beyond Libya. It shows the risks of expecting American aid in a time of desperation to buy durable loyalty, and the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment. Both are challenges now hanging over the American involvement in Syria’s civil conflict.

The attack also suggests that, as the threats from local militants around the region have multiplied, an intensive focus on combating Al Qaeda may distract from safeguarding American interests.

In this case, a central figure in the attack was an eccentric, malcontent militia leader, Ahmed Abu Khattala, according to numerous Libyans present at the time. American officials briefed on the American criminal investigation into the killings call him a prime suspect. Mr. Abu Khattala declared openly and often that he placed the United States not far behind Colonel Qaddafi on his list of infidel enemies. But he had no known affiliations with terrorist groups, and he had escaped scrutiny from the 20-person C.I.A. station in Benghazi that was set up to monitor the local situation.

Mr. Abu Khattala, who denies participating in the attack, was firmly embedded in the network of Benghazi militias before and afterward. Many other Islamist leaders consider him an erratic extremist. But he was never more than a step removed from the most influential commanders who dominated Benghazi and who befriended the Americans. They were his neighbors, his fellow inmates and his comrades on the front lines in the fight against Colonel Qaddafi.

To this day, some militia leaders offer alibis for Mr. Abu Khattala. All resist quiet American pressure to turn him over to face prosecution. Last spring, one of Libya’s most influential militia leaders sought to make him a kind of local judge.

Fifteen months after Mr. Stevens’s death, the question of responsibility remains a searing issue in Washington, framed by two contradictory story lines.

One has it that the video [Innocence of Muslims], which was posted on YouTube, inspired spontaneous street protests that got out of hand. This version, based on early intelligence reports, was initially offered publicly by Susan E. Rice, who is now Mr. Obama’s national security adviser.

The other, favored by Republicans, holds that Mr. Stevens died in a carefully planned assault by Al Qaeda to mark the anniversary of its strike on the United States 11 years before. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of covering up evidence of Al Qaeda’s role to avoid undermining the president’s claim that the group has been decimated, in part because of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The investigation by The Times shows that the reality in Benghazi was different, and murkier, than either of those story lines suggests. Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs. [Continue reading...]

Irrespective of whatever actually happened in Benghazi, the ability of most Americans of all political stripes to view such an event without a distorted perspective is severely constrained by the degree to which terrorism has become a pillar of the American worldview.

The neoconservatives were resoundingly successful in promoting the idea of a global terrorist network — not one which has a formal, verifiable structure; but one that exists more like a mycelium of evil.

Its tentacles are subterranean, vast, and yet ethereal. It is everywhere and nowhere, elusive and yet all-powerful; at some moments about to expire and yet paradoxically always an inextinguishable force.

We are meant to fear it just as resolutely as we cling to any object of faith. Indeed, to fail to view terrorism with sufficient gravity is to fail to uphold ones responsibilities as a patriotic American.

Even though it’s more than a decade since 9/11, terrorism remains America’s cultural straightjacket — that’s why even now in popular culture we have yet to see the war on terrorism being satirized.

At the height of the Cold War, when thousands of young Americans were getting killed in Vietnam in the name of standing up against Communism, it was somehow possible for Mel Brooks to create Get Smart and poke fun at spies and the paranoiac neuroses of the era.

The world has since pulled back from the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction and yet by some spectacular defiance of logic or any sense of proportion, terrorism has been conjured as an even greater threat.

At this time, 83% of Americans believe that protecting this nation from terrorist attacks should be the U.S. government’s top foreign policy priority whereas only 37% would prioritize dealing with global climate change.

That, to my mind, is a definition of collective insanity.


Libya’s first suicide attack kills seven near Benghazi

BBC News reports: Seven people have been killed at a security checkpoint near Benghazi in the first known suicide bomb attack in Libya since the fall of Col Gaddafi.

The attacker targeted the checkpoint in the village of Aguiria, some 50km (30 miles) east of Libya’s second city.

At least eight people, including soldiers and civilians, were wounded.

The security situation in and around Benghazi has been worsening in recent months, with extremist militia blamed for almost daily attacks.

This latest incident reveals a shift in tactics away from the bombings and assassinations that have mainly targeted the security services, the BBC’s Rana Jawad reports from Tripoli.

Unlike the rest of the country, many of the militias in the Eastern region are ideologically driven, she notes. [Continue reading...]


Anarchy at door, West starts to rebuild Libyan army

Reuters reports: On a dusty parade ground outside Tripoli, young recruits march and bark out slogans for the new Libyan army that Western powers hope can turn the tide on militias threatening to engulf the North African country in anarchy.

Their boots are new and their fatigues pressed, but Libya’s army recruits will need more than drills to take on the hardened militiamen, Islamist fighters and political rivalries testing their OPEC nation’s stability.

Two years after NATO missiles helped rebels drive out Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is under siege from former rebel fighters who now flex their military muscle to make demands on the state, seize oilfields and squabble over post-war spoils.

With Libya’s army still in the making, Western powers are keen to halt chaos in the key European oil supplier and stop illicit arms spilling across North Africa.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan last month stood by in London as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Britain’s William Hague pledged support. Just weeks earlier, Zeidan himself was briefly abducted from a Tripoli hotel by militiamen.

Everyone agrees Libya needs help. But after four decades of Gaddafi rule, Libya’s stuttering decision-making, fragile leadership and chronic disorganization hamper cooperation.

Infighting between broadly liberal and Islamist camps in the assembly, and their network of militia allies, muddies Western efforts to stabilize a country where NATO’s intervention was seen as a model two years ago.

“What happens next depends on outside pressure. If we don’t make a compromise, we’ll lose Libya,” said Tofiq al-Shahibi, a leader with the National Forces Alliance party. “If we think we can build our country without outside help, we will fail.” [Continue reading...]


U.S. plan for new, Western-trained Libyan force faces obstacles

The Washington Post reports: Deepening divisions among Libya’s myriad armed groups are increasingly stirring conflict in the North African state. Now the United States and its allies are prepared to add a new force to the toxic mix.

U.S. officials say the hope is that the General Purpose Force — a trained Libyan military organization — will start to fill the country’s festering security vacuum, initially by protecting vital government installations and the individuals struggling to make this country run. The Obama administration hopes the force eventually will form the core of a new national army.

The first steps are small. At the request of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, the United States, Britain and Italy have agreed to train 5,000 to 8,000 troops, many of whom will be drawn from existing militias. The recruits will be taken outside of Libya for military instruction and what a senior U.S. defense official described as an attempt to “shift attitudes and create new allegiances” to the central government.

But it remains unclear whether more men in arms can make a difference in an atmosphere flush with hundreds of powerful armed groups — many of them already on the government payroll — and competing political agendas.

Some in Libya, along with a number of outside experts, worry that the new force — whose recruits will be selected by the Libyan defense minister and vetted by the country that trains them — could ultimately become a tool for competing groups to advance their agendas, or simply one more armed faction in a dangerous sea of firepower. [Continue reading...]


Militias pull out of Libya’s capital, Tripoli

The Associated Press reports: Militias from a string of Libyan cities left the capital, Tripoli, on Thursday, nearly a week after militiamen killed more than 40 people protesting their presence in the city.

The withdrawal is a triumph for the residents of Tripoli, who on Nov. 15 held a mass protest against the militias, which have fueled lawlessness across Libya since the fall of longtime autocrat Moammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The heavily armed groups, some of them led by Islamist extremists, have defied control by the weak central government, carving out fiefdoms and acting as a law unto themselves.

Witnesses said the militiamen gave their bases to army troops in handover ceremonies before they headed out of Tripoli. They kept their weapons, mostly assault rifles, antiaircraft guns mounted on pickup trucks and rocket-propelled grenades. The militias that left come from four cities, including Zintan, to the south of Tripoli, and Misurata to the west.


Libyan official abducted amid unrest in Tripoli

The New York Times reports: The deputy chief of Libya’s intelligence service was abducted from the parking lot of the airport in Tripoli on Sunday afternoon as a standoff between militias and a general strike against militia rule virtually shut down the city.

The deputy intelligence chief, Mustafa Noah, was abducted just two days after a militia from the coastal city of Misurata opened fire on a nonviolent demonstration against the domination of Tripoli, Libya’s capital, by such armed brigades. The confrontation degenerated into a shootout that killed at least 43 and wounded hundreds, according to Libyan health officials.

Many across Libya called the weekend a watershed for the vexed revolution that ousted Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi two years ago. It brought the first large demonstration by residents of the capital against the freewheeling militias that arrived to help oust Colonel Qaddafi and never left the city, and it posed a major test of the weak transitional government’s ability to control the militias. Around nightfall on Sunday, a local council in Misurata said in a statement that all its fighters had withdrawn from the capital.

Today the Associated Press reports that Noah has been released.


State of emergency declared in Libyan capital

Al Jazeera reports: A 48-hour state of emergency has been declared in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, after a fresh wave of clashes broke out following a deadly protest against armed groups.

At least one person was killed and dozens wounded in Saturday’s clashes that took place a day after more than 40 people were killed in firing by gunmen.

Saturday’s gun battles broke out to the east of the capital in Tajoura, where rival gunmen clashed at checkpoints set up to stop more gunmen nearby city of Misrata from entering Tripoli, Mohammad Sasi, a local member of Libya’s congress said.

Thousands of protesters gathered in the city centre to mourn those killed in Friday’s attack when militias fired on a crowd urging the dissolution of unlawful armed groups.

Mourners called on their government to resign and armed militias to leave the city. [Continue reading...]


Libya protest turns deadly as militias open fire

The New York Times reports: Dozens of people were killed in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on Friday after militiamen opened fire on unarmed protesters, setting off some of the worst violence in the capital since the revolt against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi almost three years ago.

The bloodshed at the protest on Friday afternoon quickly devolved into clashes involving armed citizens and rival militias, witnesses said. At hospitals, bodies arrived mangled by heavy-weapons fire. Air force jets flew sorties over the city, as pickup trucks carrying reinforcements of fighters raced to the clashes.

The protest that led to the violence was part of a rising tide of citizen anger against Libya’s multitude of militias, made up of thousands of men who fought Colonel Qaddafi’s forces and never laid down their arms. The militias have fed Libya’s chronic insecurity, fighting among themselves while exerting control over vital installations and even resources like oil. Fighters pledge loyalty to their commanders, tribes or towns, rather than the weak central government.

Yet the nature of the violence on Friday seemed to represent an especially ominous turn for the country, dragging it back to the winter three years ago when Colonel Qaddafi’s soldiers, roaming the capital in jeeps, gunned down protesters in the streets. [Continue reading...]


The U.S. plan to build a Libyan army

Frederic Wehrey writes: Last month, discussing the Obama administration’s plans for a more modest Middle East policy, National Security Adviser Susan Rice noted that Washington “can’t just be consumed 24/7 by one region, important as it is.” From now on, she implied, countries in the region, including Libya, would be relegated to second-tier priority.

As she spoke, the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) was preparing to step up its assistance in Libya to help the country rebuild its weak security sector. Over the summer, AFRICOM, along with the militaries of Italy, Turkey, and the United Kingdom committed to help train, advise, and equip a new Libyan army — a “general purpose force,” in formal military terms — with the United States responsible for approximately 5,000 to 8,000 soldiers. The plan seems reasonable on paper. Trained at overseas bases outside Libya, the new force will allow the government to project its own authority, protect elected officials and institutions from the militias operating within the country, and compel the militias to demobilize and disarm. Washington sees the effort as a crucial step in Libya’s democratic transition and as a way to halt extremism and prevent the country’s lawlessness from spilling over its borders.

But the force’s composition, the details of its training, the extent to which Libyan civilians will oversee it, and its ability to deal with the range of threats that the country faces are all unclear. And the stakes are enormous. There are signs that some militias within Libya are trying to bloody the new army’s nose before it even enters the fight: a campaign of shadowy assassinations against military officers, particularly in the east, is likely half vendetta against representatives of the old order and half attempt to deter the central government’s monopolization of military force.

The case of a separate and underreported U.S. effort to train a small Libyan counterterrorism unit inside Libya earlier this year is instructive. The unit, set up by U.S. special operations forces, was hardly representative of Libya’s regional makeup: recruitment appeared to be drawn overwhelmingly from westerners to the exclusion of the long-neglected east. In addition, the absence of clear lines of authority — nearly inevitable given Libya’s fragmented security sector — meant that the force’s capabilities could just have easily ended up being used against political enemies as against terrorists.

Things came to a head in August, when a tribal militia launched a pre-dawn raid on the poorly guarded training camp near Tripoli. No U.S. soldiers were there, but the militia did make off with sensitive U.S. military equipment. And that spelled the end of the mission; the effort was aborted and U.S. forces went home. (The Libyan government and U.S. special operations forces are currently searching for a new training site inside Libya to restart it.) Drawing lessons from this fiasco, the United States and its NATO partners have wisely decided that the new training mission for the general purpose force will take place outside Libya — in Bulgaria, Italy, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. But that alone won’t be enough to ensure that the effort doesn’t face more significant hurdles. [Continue reading...]

Reuters reports: Heavy fighting between militias using rifles, grenades and anti-aircraft weapons erupted in several parts of Tripoli on Tuesday in the worst violence in the Libyan capital for weeks.

Fighting started in Tripoli’s eastern Suq al-Juma district and a central area where two burned out pick-ups belonging to a militia on the government payroll could be seen. Libyan news websites said at least one person had been wounded.

The shooting started after a member of a militia was detained at a checkpoint after which fellow fighters arrived trying to free him, a militia source said.

Reuters reporters in Tripoli could hear shots from rocket propelled-grenades and anti-aircraft guns throughout the night. Tripoli was quiet on Tuesday morning but occasional rifle shots could still be heard.


Libya has become virtually ungovernable

Jason Pack and Mohamed Eljarh write: American Special Forces captured Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, an operative of Al Qaeda living in Libya. Five days later, a group of Libyan militiamen kidnapped their own prime minister, Ali Zeidan. After five hours, having faced no opposition from the police or the army, they released him. The prime minister’s captors made no demands for cash, nor did they overtly request any changes in current government policy. Nor was anyone hurt — an aspect that gave the whole affair the air of a vast publicity stunt.

Some have described the kidnapping as a pseudo-coup. But coups usually aim to overthrow one government and replace it with another. Things are different in Libya.

None of the country’s competing armed factions are capable of governing alone. Each wishes to protect its special privileges while preventing its opponents from governing. Libya is truly ruled by everyone and no one.

In the early days of the anti-Qaddafi rebellion, the rebels’ top brass attempted to form a nascent national army, yet various “civilian” (read: Islamist) groups refused to submit to the proposed chain of command. In July 2011, Islamists were suspected in the murder of the national army’s leader, Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes. Since then, myriad civilian militias have proliferated. They dwarf the national army and police force combined. The government has tried to co-opt some of the civilian brigades with big salaries and fancy titles, but most remain loyal only to their commanders.

Consequently, the Libyan government lacks even 100 armed men who would lay their lives on the line to defend the abstract concept of the state. Conversely, the militias can rely on thousands.

In Western Libya, the most staunchly anti-government forces are a loose alliance of Islamists and certain powerful militias from the city of Misurata. Counterbalancing them are non-Islamist militias from the city of Zintan. In the East, “federalist” militias seek to obtain “justice” (meaning more power and money for their region).

As a result of this multipolar struggle, the country has become virtually ungovernable. Each group has its supporters inside the parliament: the Martyrs and the Muslim Brotherhood blocs have worked to further the influence of the Revolutionaries Operations Room — the group that kidnapped Mr. Zeidan. With the Islamists’ support, Nouri Abusahmain became Libya’s president in June. And he quickly bolstered his power as a counterweight to the prime minister by endowing the Revolutionaries Operations Room with $700 million.

Prime Minister Zeidan’s various opponents have long sought to force him out of office. Despite his waning popularity and effectiveness, they failed to oust him via a secret no-confidence vote on Oct. 1. He survived the vote not because he enjoys widespread support but rather because no one can agree on who should replace him. [Continue reading...]


Did the U.S. make a mistake in seizing Anas al-Liby?

Jamie Dettmer reports: For Americans, he is a monster, a major al-Qaeda leader who had a hand in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 224 civilians and—until U.S. Special Forces snatched him off the streets of Tripoli last week—a veteran terrorist tasked with uniting jihadists not just in Libya but across the arc of North Africa.

Sitting down, though, with his wife of 22 years and three sons in their cramped apartment, on the elevated ground floor of a small apartment building in a middle-class district in the Libyan capital on Saturday evening, I heard a different story that didn’t fit the bogeyman portrait drawn by American officials.

And it is one that prompts the question: has the U.S. got the right man?

For his family, Abu Anas al-Liby, to use his nom de guerre, is an easy-going husband and kind, playful father who, just days before a Delta Force team grabbed and bundled the 49-year-old out of Libya, told his oldest son, Abdullah, that he was looking forward to becoming a grandfather.

For them, he is a Libyan patriot who sacrificed a great deal. His commitment to the ousting of Libya’s longtime dictator, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, required them all to suffer, including several years of imprisonment in poor conditions in Iran after the family fled Afghanistan. They say they endured harassment and surveillance in Britain, where they sought political asylum and lived from 1997 to 2000. [Continue reading...]


Libya’s attempted coup: Inside the kidnapping of Prime Minister Ali Zidan

The Daily Beast reports: They came in the dead of night in pick-up-trucks and battered cars, surprising a police checkpoint and moving quickly in a precise military-style configuration befitting fighters who helped to bring down Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorial rule.

Their target this time wasn’t a despot but the elected leader of post-Gaddafi Libya, Prime Minister Ali Zidan, whose brief abduction on Thursday marked yet another low for a country struggling to establish order and stricken by a spate of kidnappings and assassinations over the past year—including the razing of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the death of American ambassador Christopher Stevens. On Friday, a day after the Prime Minister’s abduction, a car bomb exploded outside of the Swedish consulate in Benghazi, damaging the building and nearby houses.

The militiamen, angry over a U.S. Special Forces team seizing of suspected al-Qaeda bigwig Abu Anas al-Liby in Tripoli seven days ago, used pick-up trucks equipped with anti-aircraft guns to block entrances to the luxury Corinthia Hotel in downtown Tripoli where Zidan resides in a suite on the 22nd floor.

Witnesses, including guards assigned to the hotel by the Interior Ministry, say about 400 gunmen were involved in the abduction and that the leaders marched into the cavernous, marble-floored lobby demanding to know from alarmed nighttime staff the whereabouts of the Prime Minister. A receptionist was hauled off when he refused to say. The gunmen brandished a warrant for Zidan’s arrest on national security and corruption charges, signed by the Prosecutor General, says Khalil Yahia, the head of the government security team at the Corinthia, which also houses several foreign missions.

“I was shocked,” he says. “I was thinking, ‘How could they have an arrest warrant for the Prime Minister?’” The militiamen grabbed most of the hotel’s surveillance equipment and tapes. “There was no gunfire—we only had about half-a-dozen guards on duty. There wasn’t anything we could do. I didn’t call for reinforcements, because these people—the ones waving the warrant—would have been the people detailed to be the reinforcements.” [Continue reading...]


How Libya can deal with the problem of militias

Ranj Alaaldin writes: Libya is back in the headlines after a powerful Islamist-dominated militia group abducted the country’s prime minister, Ali Zeidan, amid anger over a US special forces raid on Saturday during which a Libyan al-Qaida suspect, Abu Anas al-Liby, was seized. The impunity with which militia groups are able to operate in the country puts it on par with the lawlessness that has been seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, where even some of the most audacious and organised of militants are unable to reach as sensitive and important a target as a sitting prime minister.

Libya is different for the reason that it has no national army. It has a series of disparate autonomous militia groups who are heavily entrenched in Libya’s politics, economy and society. In other words, they are now a part of the daily routine and have become inseparable from the state and broader Libyan society. The independence this gives them has worsened Libya’s security environment, given that various militia groups are at odds with one another, often resulting in clashes between them, as well as with the state itself.

Post-conflict states like Libya are generally required to, first and foremost, develop a strong state and centralise authority in the country, if indeed a centralist political and constitutional process is preferred. In Libya, the failure to disarm militias has only bought them more time to consolidate their hold on the country. Elections last year, the country’s first in decades and its first since the former regime was ousted, compounded the militia problem by allowing prominent, well-organised and armed groups to consolidate their positions, legitimise their influence as well as cement their newfound status and power.

In other words, Libya cannot move forward, stabilise and become the democratic state most Libyans and the international community hoped it would be when Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in November 2011. [Continue reading...]