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Libya: Human Rights, War and Oil

March 20, 2011

Libya saw a spate of protests like other parts of Northern Africa and Middle East. These protests increased in intensity such that it was unclear as to how much of the country Muammar Gadaffi, the dictator of 41 years controlled. The situation is such that eastern parts of the country are in the control of the rebels while the rest is under control of Gadaffi regime.

What started as an uprising against Gadaffi has now been turned into a civil war where both sides are out to control as much of the territory as they can. This is turf war and the stakes are high. While Tripoli, Sirte, Bin Jawad are under Gadaffi control the all important Ras Lanuf and Brega which are oil fields are still under rebel control. The headquarters of the rebels is Benghazi.UN Security Council was called in a hurry and resolution 1973 passed that gave the UN lead by US and European countries the right to impose a no-fly zone over  Libya and to take any military action that is needed to stop the killing of the innocents by the Gadaffi regime. Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil abstained from voting while others lead by US voted for the resolution.

The USS Barry launches a Tomahawk missile in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn March 19, 2011

It must be understood that Libya has the largest oil deposits in Africa and almost 3% of the known global oil reserves, which is more than what the US has. Libya’s National Oil Corporation has 51% stake in all oil contracts. Italy’s Eni, Total of France, British Petroleum and Exxon Mobil, Repsol of Spain have stakes in Libya. China’s National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has been expanding their foot print in the country and that was not liked by the western nations. Chevron and Occidental Petroleum decided barely 6 months ago not to renew their contracts in Libya. In contrast Germany’s oil company, R.W. DIA E signed a far-reaching agreement with Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) involving exploration and production sharing in November 2010.1

It should surprise no one that Germany remarkably abstained from voting at the Security Council. They have taken part in military operations that the western coalition has undertaken except giving base facilities. Italy has also not participated directly in the conflict except giving logistical support from their bases in Sicily. Here it will be pertinent to note that Italy’s Eni has not shaken off their relations with Libya and the Gadaffi regime. They still have interests in Libya and look at it as a long term business prospect.

President Barack Obama solemnly stated that the world will not sit quietly while Gadaffi killed his own people. He is also on record saying that Hillary Clinton was pestering him to take a stand on Libya and would have ‘thrown stones through my window if I did not act’. What was the tearing hurry to get things in place and to impose a no-fly zone? Why are the western nations so keen on ensuring that Benghazi and other towns do not go back to Gadaffi control once the rebels had managed to control them? The hurry was to make sure Brega and Ras Lanuf the oil townships do not fall back in the hands of Gadaffi. No sooner had the resolution 1973 passed French planes started flying over these areas – and was the beginning of Operation Odyssey Dawn. US warships and submarines fired more than a 100 lethal Tomahawk cruise missiles on Tripoli. Around 50 people died, it is reported.2

The western game plan is to divide Libya into two. The oil rich Ras Lanuf and Brega will fall in the Eastern parts that have been taken away from the Gadaffi regime. The problem that the western countries are facing is that while they are ready to fire cruise missiles and impose a no-fly zone with state of the art fighter jets they are loathe to send boots on the ground. For once, the US has said that this is a limited operation and has taken a back seat while France and Britain have taken the lead in imposing the no fly zone. They are also keen to be able to give ‘humanitarian aid’ to the rebels which essentially means arms and supplies to fight Gadaffi but they do not want to commit themselves to an occupation. The western nations are still smarting from their experience that was Iraq and later Afghanistan and do not want to put lives at risk. Yet, the business of oil is so strategically important that they would hate to give back what they have managed to secure after much effort, on a platter back to Gadaffi.

While the western nations may be able to impose the no-fly zone I am not sure they will be able to keep Gadaffi’s forces at bay. Aerial bombardment can dent a nation’s resolve but will not be enough to subjugate them. Some SAS men were para-dropped in Benghazi to help the rebels but the operation was so poorly executed that they were detained by the rebels in Benghazi and the British rescued them citing vaguely about ‘diplomatic immunity’.

Were the western nations to divide the country in Eastern and Western Libya it is clear that the major oil fields of Ras Lanuf and Bregga will be demarcated in the Eastern sector where the west will have influence. Gadaffi had threatened to scrap all contracts with western firms and give them to CNPC and some Indian companies (Reliance Petroleum). West is therefore very keen that Libya be divided. Whether any such division is practical it will be interesting to see. Gadaffi will try and reclaim what he believes is his. Western air superiority is undeniable and no fly zone will ensure that Gadaffi does not use air power to subjugate the rebels which he was doing quite successfully. What is for sure is that this strategically important country is going to be a challenge for the west no less than what Iraq was or Afghanistan is. It is true that some Arab countries like Qatar and UAE have come out openly with the western nations and Qatar is even participating in aerial sorties over Libya, but that does not mean that Gadaffi’s Libya is without any friends. Russia and China have condemned western attacks on Libya. Germany and Italy have not struck off all relations with this crucial nation. With the west attacking Gadaffi, now the man will get grass root -support and Arabs will cite their experiences in Iraq to warn Libyans from letting west enter their country. These attacks may in fact help Gadaffi survive. It is also likely that he may try to wrest control of Ras Lanuf and Bregga. A no-fly zone can help the rebels on the ground but may not be enough to stop Gadaffi’s forces from storming eastern Libya under the cover of darkness.

The coming weeks will be crucial for Libya and for the west. Obama has allowed France and Britain take the lead in this operation. Yet, were it to succeed and a division of Libya works out he will not hesitate to take credit for the success. The firing of Tomahawks was to assure the NATO allies that US is at the back of these operations. The B2 stealth bombers have also undertaken missions. That the US is still at the back of these operations is very clear.

While Gadaffi may not be the darling of the Arab world, (Saudis also hate him) the distance between the Muslim world and the west will only increase after these strikes. Like Iraq and Afghanistan this is another war that the west may not be able to win, unless they are able to liquidate Gadaffi and his clan and able to install a puppet without entering Libya.

As I write the news is that British forces have shot missiles on the house of Muammar Gadaffi in Tripoli. They have however, ‘clarified’ that this was not intended to harm the Libyan dictator! In the meanwhile, Robert Gates on the way to Russia has said that the US will hand over the command of Operation Odyssey Dawn either to a combined leadership of French and the British or to NATO. handing over the command to NATO has the problem that Arab states who are a part of these operations have reservations in working under NATO.

I cannot help but recollect Gadaffi telling some western journalists including Christiane Amanpour that they did not understand the system in Libya.  As for the Obama administration they will have the cake and eat it too. If this operation does not pass muster they are ready with the alibi that these are ‘limited operations’. If this does come through and they are able to get to their strategic objectives, well then in 2012 he will have something to show the electorate.

In all this, it is the neo-cons who are having it most difficult. Now here is Obama, who has initiated a war. What do they say about him? How do they run him down? They are a pathetic sight.


1. “Operation Libya” and the Battle for Oil: Redrawing the Map of Africa by Prof Michel Chossudovsky; Center for Global Research,  March 9th, 2011.

2. Odyssey Dawn: The military operation –

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2011 12:51 am

    I must say that in the last 20 years all the wars/coupes in that region of the world were about oil and money. Not about the people or anything similar. Uncle Sam needs OIL and that’s all.


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