Carving up Libya


On 31 March the US government announced it would stop its aerial assault on Libya in two days’ time. The head of Britain’s RAF told The Guardian on 4 April that they were planning for six months’ of operations over Libya. While the NATO allies are divided over methods and ends in their war on Libya, neither the Libyan government nor its opponents within Libya seem capable of overcoming the other. With the opposing forces apparently in stalemate, the British government despatched a diplomatic mission to Benghazi, presumably to direct the opposition forces in any forthcoming negotiations.

Evidence of civilian casualties caused by NATO bombs and missiles is increasing. On 30 March the BBC reported that a NATO airstrike had killed seven civilians, mostly children. A team of Russian doctors described how bombs had damaged a hospital in Tripoli and killed dozens of people. The Vatican’s representative in Libya confirmed bomb damage to hospitals and reported some 40 civilian deaths.

The British state has been at the forefront in trying to isolate, divide and weaken the Libyan government by encouraging defections and inserting specialist forces to work with and direct the opposition. This is in brazen contempt for Libya’s sovereignty. As the imperialists weigh up the chances of removing the Libyan government by sending in more ground forces against those of successful negotiation between the opposition and the government, they will be tempted to strengthen their negotiating position by military means. However, should NATO commit more forces they will mobilise the majority of Libya’s people against them and a protracted guerrilla war could follow.

On 29 March, representatives of 40 countries and international organisations were brought to London to discuss the future of Libya. Opening the conference, David Cameron said, ‘We are all here in one united purpose, that is, to help the Libyan people in their hour of need.’ What this means to the imperialist countries is clear – a proxy government in place of Gadaffi, its oil wealth open to western coffers. The form of this proxy government is already being shaped.

The Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) was formed on 27 February to act as the ‘political face of the revolution’.  Declaring itself the ‘sole representative of all Libya’, the council unites 31 long-term anti-Gadaffi figures, all with similar backgrounds and political beliefs. Chairman of the Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, was a former Justice Minister with a consistent history of opposition to the Gadaffi government. A leaked US embassy cable from January 2010 has US ambassador Gene Cretz describing a meeting with him as ‘positive and encouraging’.  He is backed in the council by similar figures, including lawyers, businessmen, ex-generals and ex-ambassadors. Many of the rebel leaders have ties to long-standing Libyan opposition group the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL). The NFSL was organised by anti-Gadaffi expatriates in 1981 and received funding, training and support from Saudia Arabia, French intelligence services and the CIA. It has been involved in military acts against the Libyan government, and is heavily involved in the National Conference for the Libyan Opposition (NCLO).

On 23 March, the NTC announced the formation of a transitional government. Its  Interim President Mahmoud Jibril holds a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania and was in charge of encouraging investment in Libya as chairman of the National Economic Development Board in 2009. Leaked US cables describe him as ‘reform-minded’, and as someone who ‘gets the US perspective’. Minister of Military Affairs is Omar El Hariri, a former general who planned a 1975 attempted coup against the Gadaffi government. Minister of Foreign Affairs is Ali Al Issawi, who holds a PhD in Privatisation from the Academy of Economic Studies in Romania. Minister of Finance is Ali Tarhouni, a former corporate advisor and economics lecturer at the University of Washington, who fled Libya in 1973 and is involved in the NCLO.

The transitional government was lauded by Britain, France and the US. France, Qatar, Portugal, Italy and the Arab League have already recognised it as the government of Libya. Britain and the US are planning meetings with the rebels for this purpose. However, such involvement is merely window dressing for what has been happening for at least as long as the uprising in Libya has begun.  On 31 March the New York Times reported that the CIA has operatives on the ground in Libya, gathering intelligence for airstrikes and vetting rebel forces. Similarly, British Special Forces and MI6 officers have been confirmed as working on the ground, directing airstrikes and gathering intelligence to assist the rebels.

The NTC has begun to organise military forces to march on Tripoli.  Egypt’s military has begun arming rebel forces, and the US and Britain are deliberating on doing so. Meanwhile, the NTC has assigned Khalifa Hifter the role of Military Chief of the rebel forces. Hifter is a former Libyan army colonel, who spent the last 20 years living in Virginia as a member of the anti-Gadaffi opposition. He has been linked to the CIA, and was described in a 1996 Washington Post report as leader of a ‘Contra-style group’.

With the support of Britain, France and the US, the NTC is forming a proxy government fit for the interests of imperialism, with a suitable military and commercial wing befitting their interests. Living up to Jalil’s pledge for oil prices to be adjusted ‘according to the positions countries are taking towards Libya in these difficult times’, the NTC has already begun auctioning off Libyan oil to Qatar and foreign oil companies. As Fidel Castro correctly noted, ‘the plan is to occupy Libya’. This plan must not be allowed to succeed.

Murray Andrews and Trevor Rayne


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