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Western powers back the wrong horse in Libya

The UN-backed Government of National Accord installed in March is far from being unified, is largely mistrusted and has little authority away from the capital

Gulf News

Say what you will about Libya so-called ‘renegade general’ Khalifa Haftar, he’s a patriot who’s been effective in battling Islamist radicals. Just days ago, his ‘Libyan National Army’ forces have bloodlessly persuaded armed groups to hand over control of the country’s idle coastal oil terminals which were immediately handed to the National Oil Corporation (NOC). Oil tankers have docked at two of the ports for the first time in three years and the NOC believes exports will be tripled by year’s end.

Growing numbers of Libyans view General Haftar as a hero, as does Parliament which has promoted him to the rank of Field Marshall. Yet even though the oil is set to flow for the people’s benefit, the US, France and Britain have slammed his efforts and issued a statement calling for “all military forces that have moved into the oil crescent to withdraw immediately without preconditions”. Why? Because they fear his success could undermine the crippled UN-backed Government of National Unity.

US President Barack Obama has admitted on several occasions that the US intervention in Libya was the worst mistake of his presidency, in particular the absence of any plan for the day after. In this case it’s about time he and his EU cohorts stayed out of Libya’s business.

The US, France and Britain launched an air campaign and inserted Special Forces in the country in support of rebel groups ostensibly for humanitarian reasons to protect and liberate civilians from the strong-arm of their long time leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Instead, they helped to unleash armed militias, extremist groups, feuding tribes and secessionists on an unsuspecting population that had lived peacefully for decades. There was no transition to democracy as those who wanted Gaddafi gone had longed-for. The US and its European allies shamefully assisted in the creation of yet another failed state within the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.

The Western trio withdrew leaving behind them bloodshed, political chaos and a once vibrant oil-based economy on its dying legs. Worse, a security vacuum was created that amounted to an open invitation to Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) to set up camp around the country’s crucial oil facilities and ports.

This inconvenient truth has now been recognised by a panel of British parliamentarians. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has savaged David Cameron for rushing to war based on erroneous assumptions and unreliable intelligence in order to pursue an “opportunistic policy of regime change in Libya”.

Many Libyans who once hated their eccentric leader and took up arms against him are now regretful. For all his faults, he maintained a stable nation and ensured that the population benefitted from its vast wealth. On his watch medical treatment and education were free and those who needed to be treated or wanted to study abroad were funded by the government.

Petrol prices in Gaddafi’s Libya were the lowest in the world. Loans from the state bank were available at zero interest. Moreover, couples received substantial lump sums upon marriage, new mothers were gifted with $5,000 (Dh18,365) and prices of cars were subsidised by 50 per cent.

“Libyans suffering regular lengthy power outages, joblessness, rampant inflation and long queues at ATMs haven’t got much to laugh about nowadays.””
-Linda S. Heard
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He did not deserve being brutalised while bleeding in the back of a truck before being shot by a mob. Then Secretary-of-State Hilary Clinton was flippant on hearing of his demise.

“We came, we saw, he died,” she told a CBS News anchor laughingly.

Libyans suffering regular lengthy power outages, joblessness, rampant inflation and long queues at ATMs haven’t got much to laugh about nowadays. According to a recent UN report more than 2.4 million Libyans — over one-third of the population — require humanitarian aid while tens of thousands of internally displaced are still living in camps.

The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) installed in March is far from being unified, is largely mistrusted and has little authority away from the capital. It is not, however, backed by the country’s internationally-recognised parliament based in Tobruk, which, last month, presented the GNA with a vote of no-confidence.

The Obama administration should quit propping up a crumbling entity manufactured United Nations bureaucrats. The US president and friends broke it but the only ones who can begin to mend it are the Libyans themselves and if it’s Haftar they want then so be it!

— Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at lheard@gulfnews.com

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