NATO war on Libya - Eyes on the prize

FRFI 223 October/November 2011

NATO bombing cleared the path to Tripoli. NATO planned to escalate the bombing to an ‘unbearable’ level. Approximately 30,000 bombs and missiles were dropped on Libya in six months; nearly 200 bombs per day. Estimates of the numbers of Libyan people killed are between 50,000 and 60,000. All this was done in the name of United Nations Resolution 1973 ‘protecting civilians’. When forces allied to the National Transitional Council (NTC) entered Tripoli on 21 August, they were accompanied and directed by British, French and other foreign military personnel. This was no victory for the Libyan people. Thus far it is a victory for NATO and imperialism. Trevor Rayne reports.

The World Bank recognised the NTC as the legitimate representative of Libya on 13 September. The UN gave the NTC Libya’s UN seat on 16 September. China and Russia recognised the NTC in early September and on 20 September the African Union issued a statement of recognition, accompanied by an appeal that African migrant workers be protected. With all these official blessings it might go unnoticed that the NTC has been unable to announce a cabinet. The previous NTC cabinet was dissolved on 8 August following the assassination of the NTC’s military chief, General Younes, presumably by an Islamic group that he used to suppress before he defected from being head of the Libyan government’s security forces.

The NTC is divided between former government officials, exiles returned from abroad, Islamic groups and factions based on clans and cities, and they are all competing for positions and the spoils. The new military commanders of forces in Tripoli and Benghazi, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Ismail Sallabi, have been accused by NATO of being anti-western Islamists. Sallabi said that the heads of the NTC wanted to impose a ‘new tyranny’. They control fighters on the ground and will use control of territory to bargain for their own positions in any new government.

More than four weeks after Colonel Gaddafi and the Libyan government left Tripoli, resistance continues against NATO and its NTC allies in Bani Walid and Sirte which the NTC forces have been unable to take. NATO jets continue to bomb these towns and inflict heavy casualties; Sirte is a town of 75,000 people and there are reports of 2,000 residents having been killed.

On 15 September French President Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Cameron visited Tripoli and Benghazi, a day ahead of Turkish President Erdogan. The day before Sarkozy and Cameron’s visit, NATO carried out 123 sorties over Libya. Cameron told the Libyan people that ‘this is your revolution’ and that: ‘This goes beyond Libya, this is a moment when the Arab Spring could become a summer and we see democracy advance in other countries too.’ Sarkozy said he had Syria in mind for this sort of democracy. Cameron had nothing to say about the thousands of black African migrants imprisoned by the NATO allies, the shooting and lynching of black Africans in Benghazi and Tripoli, the bodies of 32 mainly black men found in Tripoli, several handcuffed and already wounded, after a mass execution, or about the towns like Twarga, home to 55,000 people, cleared out completely by NTC forces. Meanwhile, the NATO-led hunt for Colonel Gaddafi goes on.

The prize

‘[Oil] industry executives say Libya is not as big a prize as Iraq’ (Financial Times 20 September 2011). However, it is a big enough prize to draw the first representatives of multinational companies to Tripoli and Benghazi as the competition for contracts gets under way. Libya has Africa’s largest proven oil reserves: 46.4 billion barrels compared to Nigeria’s 37.2 billion barrels. Before the revolt and NATO assault, Libya produced 1.6 million barrels a day, just 2% of the world output, but 10-15% of the world’s high quality, low sulphur content oil. This oil is sought after because it is used for diesel and petrol which meet environmental emission rules. Libyan oil is critical to several oil companies’ operations: Italy’s Eni, Spain’s Repsol, France’s Total, OMV of Austria, Wintershall of Germany and from the US, ConocoPhillips, Occidental, Hess and Marathon. However, the head of the NTC, Mustafa Jalil, showed his gratitude to his European guests by saying that France and Britain ‘will have priority within a framework of transparency’. A UK Trade and Investment representative has already visited Tripoli and the Libyan British Business Council will visit in October, when contracts can be expected to be agreed.

Oil revenues account for 95% of Libya’s foreign earned income, worth $44 billion in 2010. All foreign investors in Libya’s oil industry have to negotiate contracts with the National Oil Corporation (NOC). NTC officials charged with managing the NOC have plans to divide the orga-nisation up into two or three companies. If the multinational oil corporations have a hand in privatising the NOC this will be the biggest prize of all.

The Libyan government had up to $120 billion held in US and European banks. This money was frozen by governments following UN sanctions. Its release will be used to dictate to any future Libyan government. The cost of maintaining the NTC from March until September was $300 million a month. This has been paid for out of NATO-controlled funds. The British government flew 200 million Libyan lira out to the NTC when it took Tripoli. This cash was used to buy support for the NTC. Germany holds seven billion euros of Libyan money. Although many German bourgeois regret that Germany did not participate in the NATO bombardment of Libya, they can use control over frozen assets to extract reconstruction contracts from the NTC.

It is worth recalling that Colonel Gaddafi met five times with members of the British Royal Family between 2007 and 2009, including three times with Prince Andrew. We now know from government documents found in Tripoli that he met with Tony Blair twice since Blair stood down from being Prime Minister in 2007. The documents reveal a sinister side to British-Libyan collaboration. Between 2004 and 2006 the CIA rendered at least six captives to Libya, with no legal procedures whatsoever. Documents show that at least one of them, Abu Munthir, with his family, was handed over to Libyan authorities by British intelligence officers. According to the The Independent: ‘So close had the relationship [between MI6 and Libyan intelligence] become that several Western European intelligence agencies were using the services of MI6 for help with their own terrorist suspects. The Swedish, Italian and Dutch services sought the help of the UK agency in liaising with Tripoli.’ One of those rendered was Abdel Hakim Belhaj. The British government has refused to apologise for his torture, pending future investigations.

When he arrived in Tripoli from Benghazi, Mustafa Jalil said that Islamic law would be the main source of future legislation. Thus 42 years of secular law will be ended. What price will the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and multinational corporate vultures extract from Libya for its reconstruction and to get its oil flowing again? Who will get the oil revenues? Libya had achieved the longest life expectancy in Africa and the lowest infant mortality rate. 90% of adults were literate. When Cameron and Sarkozy speak of democracy Libyan people should know that their free health care and education are under threat. NATO and imperialism out of Libya!


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