Armed militias, the wild west and bags of loot

There are rival armed militias, each with a propensity for violence against unarmed civilians, that control different portions of territory. They get word that a huge shipment of money is coming into their turf. The bags of money will be deposited at a location right in the middle of disputed territory. The haul will be transported in due course, so the gangs start fighting each other for influence, determined to oust their rivals and capture the lucrative prize destined for their city. Sounds like a scenario from the American Wild West around the 1880s? Actually, this is Libya in December 2011.

The Guardian reported on December 17 that rival armed gangs are battling for control over the runways at Tripoli airport? Why? Because the United Nations, having recently released £100 billion pounds worth of Libyan assets previously frozen in order to oust the Qadhafi regime, includes an immediate shipment of newly printed currency. Several billion dinars worth of new money is arriving on five cargo planes at Tripoli airport. Whoever seizes control of the airport will be able to impose huge fees to make the newly minted currency available to the National Transitional Council. While the airport at Tripoli is controlled by a militia from Zintan, a town that saw heavy fighting against the Qadhafi loyalist troops, the main rival and ostensibly national army of the National Transitional Council is determined to gain control. Previous attempts to take the airport by the ‘national’ army have been rebuffed, but this consignment of cash is a large, highly remunerative temptation too sweet to resist.

The future does not look promising for Libya; as the Guardian reports,

“the fight to control the airport is part of a far wider battle for political and economic dominance in the new Libya; one that pits the various factions who united to overthrow the Gaddafi regime against each other, as well as remnants of the dictator’s defeated military.”

The battle over the airport is only one aspect of a brewing political battle over the future direction of Libya’s new regime. The National Transitional Council faces mass protests across the country, and can hardly exert its control outside its own base in Benghazi. While there is a ‘national’ army in name, formed back in February 2011 in Benghazi, most of this army is composed of Qadhafi-era generals. The bulk of the Libyan army remained loyal to Qadhafi. The militias in Zintan, Misrata and other cities are able to continue their operations thanks to generous assistance and support from the NATO powers.

In a telling comment from the Guardian article, the National Transitional Council,

“refuses to say who its members are, or even how many there are. Although it appointed a cabinet last month, policy decisions are taken inside what amounts to a black box. Meetings are held in secret, voting records are not published, and decisions are announced by irregular television broadcasts.”

That sounds highly reminiscent of Mussolini’s Italy.

The entire ‘Libyan scramble’ article is well worth reading.

And just to add to the revelations about the character of the National Transitional Council and its rule in Libya; the NTC is now open to hiring mercenaries to enforce its rule over Tripoli and other parts of the country according to the UPI press. To make absolutely clear exactly whom will be protected by any mercenaries (euphemistically labeled security companies), here is the explanatory quote from the UPI article – “The main focus of the security companies is Libya’s oil industry.”