People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 39

September 25, 2011

NATO Takeover of Libya


Yohannan Chemerapally


MORE than a month has elapsed since the “fall” of the Libyan capital Tripoli to the rebel forces “fighting” under the cover of NATO bombs and missiles. With the rebels in control of the capital and the other main city of Benghazi, the international community has rushed in to give “de facto” recognition to the National Transitional Council (NTC) formed under the tutelage of NATO. The African Union (AU) and many countries, mainly from Latin America, were extremely reluctant to recognise the rump government which is operating from Benghazi. Tripoli is still unsafe for the NTC leaders to relocate. 


If the mayhem and butchery that was witnessed in Tripoli in late August is any illustration, then Libya is all set to follow Afghanistan and Iraq into chaos and anarchy. Tripoli has been experiencing a wave of looting and destruction, similar to the one witnessed in Baghdad after its occupation by the Americans. The NATO intervention in Libya was made on even more spurious grounds than was done in Afghanistan and Iraq. The NATO intervention took place to allegedly stop the massacre of civilians in Benghazi. The Libyan leader had only issued a threat to use force in Benghazi after law and order had completely broken down in the city.




After the rebels and their NATO military advisers marched into Tripoli on August 21, the capital has been without essential supplies, including drinking water and electricity. Places of worship, including the oldest Greek Orthodox Church in the capital, have been ransacked. Hundreds of bodies have been left rotting on the streets and hospitals. The hospitals have been bereft of essential equipment and medicines. The undisciplined rebel forces have been on a looting spree while NATO helicopters and planes continued attacking pro-government holdouts in the capital till late August.  


Many of the residents of Tripoli preferred to flee when the armed Berber fighters from the western mountains, armed by Qatar and trained by NATO Special Forces, swooped down on Tripoli. Massive NATO bombardment of Libyan army positions had cleared the road to the capital for them. There were only small crowds welcoming the so called liberators when they entered Tripoli. The fault lines that existed between Benghazi, the former capital under the deposed king and the Republican capital Tripoli, are widening. The assassination on July 28 of Abdel Fatah Younis, the NTC’s top commander by rogue rebel fighters has highlighted the disunity among the forces that seek to fill the vacuum left by the larger than life persona of the “Brother Leader”, Muammar Gaddafi.


Radical Islamists, many owing allegiance to al Qaida, were in the forefront of the six month long NATO supervised fight to overthrow the government of Libya. Abdelhakim Belhadj, the founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) an al Qaeda affiliate, led the fighting in Tripoli and openly talked about the key role his group is playing in the ongoing war. Belhadj, who was on America’s wanted list after 9/11, was caught in Malaysia in 2003, and subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and torture by the Americans in a secret Bangkok prison. The Americans then deported him to Libya in 2004, where he was promptly incarcerated.


In a fit of magnanimity, Gaddafi had released Belhadj along with 211 “terrorists”, most of them veterans of the Jihad in Afghanistan and Iraq. The move to release them was the brainwave of Saif al Islam, who wanted to democratise Libyan politics and was applauded by the West for his efforts. Belhadj and all those released had signed a document pledging their allegiance to the Libyan government. At the first opportunity, they turned their guns against the government and that too under the tutelage of NATO. Jihadis from Libya constituted the largest segment of foreign fighters for the Qaeda in Iraq. Belhadj and his militia have also publicly announced that they will settle for nothing less than “Sharia law” in a post-Gaddafi Libya. His group is also suspected to have been behind the assassination of the NTC Commander, Abdel Fattah Younis. Younis, before his defection to the rebels, was a close associate of Gaddafi.


The Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was in power for the last 42 years, has repeatedly vowed never to surrender and die fighting for his homeland. Speaking from an undisclosed location on September 1, to mark the anniversary of the military coup which toppled the pro- western monarchy of King Idris, Gaddafi said that there was no question of surrendering and called on NATO and the UN to stop its intervention. He squarely blamed the international community for plunging the country into a civil war. “Imperialism is hated by the Libyan people. Who can accept it? All the people will fight against imperialism”.  He urged the Libyan people to be prepared for a “long fight”. He had warned the international community before the war started that NATO military intervention would turn Libya into another Somalia.




NATO forces are supervising a manhunt for the Libyan leader and are orchestrating the push to capture Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown and the heartland of his tribe – the Gaddafiffas. Many of the tribes, especially in the South, continue to swear loyalty to the government. Gaddafi’s wife and three of his children had taken refuge in Algeria in the last week of August. The Algerian government has said that the temporary asylum was given on humanitarian grounds and the group will be soon transiting to a third country. The TNC had described the Algerian government’s gesture as a “warlike” move and had demanded the immediate return of Gaddafi’s family members to face trial. One of Gaddafi’s son’s, Saif al Arab and two of his grandchildren were killed in a NATO attack on his home in May. The rebels have been repeatedly claiming that they had either killed or captured the two most politically active sons of Gaddafi, Saif al Islam and Qamis.


Even after the capture of Tripoli, NATO is continuing with its “humanitarian” bombing as it pounds civilian centres like Sirte still under the control of the Libyan government forces, making a bigger mockery of the UNSC resolution which allowed a “no fly zone” over the country on the pretext of protecting the civilian populace. The compassion that was shown to Benghazi is not being shown to the hapless citizens of Sirte, who are now being bombed and blockaded by NATO and it local allies. British papers have given details about the extensive deployment of British and Qatari special forces in the ongoing assault of Sirte. NATO had already given the rebels an “air force”, tilting the military balance irrevocably against the Libyan government at the outset of the war six months ago. NATO bombings after the fall of Tripoli, according to reports, have already killed more than 1000 civilians in Sirte alone in the last week of August.


The “no fly zone” saw to it that the Libyan air force, the Navy and most of the heavy weaponry were either destroyed or made unusable. The British and French soldiers on the ground had trained and supervised the rag tag militias that were formed and provided them with the military leadership. Aerial bombardment on a large scale coupled with targeted assassinations by NATO removed the serious military obstacles along the road to Tripoli. In early August NATO bombs hit a housing complex killing more than 70 civilians. There were several attempts to target Gaddafi personally. It was one such attempt which killed his son and grandsons.   




The African Union (AU) and many leading countries in the world have not given their recognition to the rump government that NATO seeks to put in place in Tripoli. Only 40 countries have recognised the NTC, consisting of former close associates of Gaddafi, western intelligence assets and Islamists, till the beginning of September. The AU issued a statement in the last week of August calling for the setting up of an “inclusive transitional government” that would include representatives from the previous government. The AU had repeatedly called for peaceful negotiations to end the fighting since the NATO instigated war started. The South African president, Jacob Zuma, said that the AU will never recognise the NTC as the legitimate government as long as fighting continues in Libya. The AU had also expressed its deep anguish at the killings and continuing abuse of black workers by the NATO backed rebels. Hundreds of them were unjustifiably called mercenaries and lynched. It happened when the war began and has continued as the rebels move on to Sirte.


Thousands of Tuareg tribesmen, who are Libyan citizens, were forcibly pushed into neighbouring Algeria in late August. The rebels had been accusing the Tuaregs and other dark skinned compatriots belonging to tribes bordering Mali, Sudan and Niger, of siding with Gaddafi.  The Algerian government had to give the Tuaregs unjustly expelled from their country asylum as their kinsmen are settled along the common border. Gaddafi has said that the majority of the tribes are supporting him and are now “fully armed”. Governments in the region, like Algeria however fear that much of the sophisticated arms looted in Tripoli and elsewhere will end up in the hands of the al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQM), which has started staging bigger attacks in the last few months.


Gaddafi, it should not be forgotten, was one of the architects of the reconstituted AU (previously known as the OAU) and was also the loudest proponent of African unity and integration. Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, said that his government will only recognise the government led by Muammar Gaddafi. “Without a doubt we’re facing imperial madness”, Chavez said after the fall of Tripoli. He once again accused the US and European countries of using a strategy of fomenting internal conflict to seize control of the country’s oil riches. “Getting the dogs to fight. Arming here, arming there, and later bombing the country”, Chavez said. “This destroys international law and takes the world to the Stone Age”


A leaked UN document released on August 30 has revealed that the UN already had a blueprint to turn Libya into a virtual protectorate. The 10 page document details plans for the deployment of foreign forces (read peacekeepers) in the country “to contribute to confidence building and to the implementation of agreed military tasks”. Among the tasks is the stabilisation of the Libyan capital that would need more “robust military assistance”. The document envisages a continuing role for NATO. “The Security Council’s ‘protection of civilians mandate’ implemented by NATO forces does not end with the fall of the Gaddafi government, and there, NATO would continue to have some responsibilities”, the document stated. The game plan is now to officially deploy NATO ground troops in Libya.


Mahmoud Mamdani perceptively noted in a recent article that in the past decade, western powers have used two institutions---the United Nations Security Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to selectively intervene in third countries. “The Security Council identifies States guilty of committing “crimes against humanity” and sanctions interventions as part of the “responsibility to protect civilians”. Western countries, “armed to the teeth” are then allowed to intervene militarily, without accountability to anyone. The ICC meanwhile in tandem “targets the leaders of the States in question for criminal investigation and prosecution”, wrote the Ugandan born academic.




The major NATO member states which participated in the Libyan war meanwhile are also shamelessly engaged in reaping the financial rewards for their efforts even before the casualty figures of innocent civilians killed in the war come in. The western media is full of reports about the mad rush for profits in a post-Gaddafi Libya. The news agency Reuters reported that the establishment of a new government in the country would “herald a bonanza for western companies and investors”.   


Libya has the largest proven reserves of oil on the African continent, estimated at around 46 billion barrels. The rebels who are poised to take over power have said that they have “political problems” with countries like Russia, China and Brazil and have strongly suggested that they will dishonour old contracts and sign deals with Italian, French and British companies. Britain and France had to dig deep inside their pockets to finance the costly bombing campaign to dislodge Gaddafi from Tripoli. Now they are openly demanding returns in the form of lucrative oil and defence deals.


India too is worried that its small stake in Libya would be jeopardised by the new developments. Oil India Ltd (OIL) had bagged a contract to explore oil along with Sonatrach, the Algerian state owned oil company. India, like Algeria is yet to recognise the TNC as the legitimate Libyan government. Algerian diplomats said that Algeria and the AU are only waiting for a cohesive government to be set up in Tripoli for recognition to be extended. India has already offered to help with relief and reconstruction in Libya.