Despite a rising war, Libya’s oil keeps flowing

There are now two rival governments in Libya, an unrecognized one in the western capital and an internationally recognized (and elected) one in the eastern city of Tobruk. From physical infrastructure to virtual infrastructure, everything is a target for the rivals. Politically and militarily, the western faction seems to have gained the upper hand for the moment, but on the economic front, the eastern faction is still maintaining competitive dominance in the battle for control and influence.

Libya is a country with one of the largest oil reserves in the world, and unsurprisingly one of the biggest political struggles between the rival governments is over effective control of the oil production, sales, and revenues — as explained by Jason Pack and Rhiannon Smith:

This battle for legitimacy and power is being played out within Libya’s two most influential institutions: the Central Bank and the National Oil Corporation (NOC). The HoR voted in September to dismiss Sadiq al-Kabir from his position as Central Bank governor, however Kabir appears to still be running the bank. Through him, the Islamist-aligned government has at least some control over Libya’s finances.

Last week, the Central Bank transferred Hassi’s [unrecognized] government enough funds to cover three months of family allowance payments, while a GNC-controlled public spending authority [allied with it] has managed to impose a payment limit of 200,000 Libyan Dinar across the public sector.

Meanwhile, Hassi’s Oil Minister Mashallah al-Zwey has physically taken over the NOC headquarters in Tripoli along with the NOC website. As such, officials are reportedly taking direction from him. Indeed, the official Libyan government website has been taken over by Hassi’s National Salvation government. Those cyberspace realities go a long way to validating the Tripoli government’s claim to sovereignty and legitimacy.

Based on this, one might expect a total breakdown in cooperation on oil between the rival factions. Instead, production is up and revenues are continuing to be distributed across the country. It’s a bit haphazard, to be sure, but they haven’t stopped.

Why? The realities of the complex setup of pre-Gaddafi oil royalty systems and citizen salaries, crossed with the international oversight of the country’s oil sector following the 2011 civil war, have resulted in a bizarre and almost amusing level of cooperation, even as the two factions send wave after wave of militias and soldiers and jets at each other.

Here’s the basic setup according to Reuters:

  1. Oil comes out of the ground all over the country.
  2. Oil is largely shipped to export terminals in eastern Libya controlled by the recognized government.
  3. Oil is sold legally on the international market by brokers.
  4. Money from these sales is deposited directly into an overseas account established by the international community.
  5. The only entity able to access the money overseas to bring it back to Libya is controlled by supporters of the unrecognized government and the western rebels.
  6. Most of the oil money brought back into Libya is paid to average citizens, fighters, soldiers, police, etc. in all areas of the country under a system established by Gaddafi. All beneficiaries nominally “work” for the government (either one) in jobs that may or may not exist.

If you detected a bit of a mutually assured destruction or prisoner’s dilemma-style roadblock in there, so did pretty much everybody involved, which is apparently why the two rival forces haven’t stopped the oil party.

When everyone in Libya is employed in a no-show government job funded by oil revenues, everyone in Libya is committed to keeping the oil flowing and being sold legally, despite their differences, even in the middle of what has clearly become a new civil war. Since Western rebels control the payouts and the Eastern government controls the exports, it’s important for everyone to work together even as they’re at war — or else nobody gets salaries. Without salaries, and barring substantially more proxy aid from the Persian Gulf, both sides would collapse as their hired combatants suddenly exit the war.

Unilaterally halting the exports automatically halts the revenue stream, while unilaterally halting the revenue payouts would trigger retaliatory cancellation of the oil exports. The only self-preserving and logical course, therefore, is for neither side to try to hold the other hostage on the oil cycle, at least until both the revenue transfers and exports are controlled by the same side, whether by force or by the international community intervening on the funds repatriation process.


No budget for “those” kind of diseases…

Sad truths from a New York Times article on an experimental Ebola vaccine that had been successfully tested with monkeys to great fanfare and then sat on a shelf untested on humans for almost ten years…

Its development stalled in part because Ebola is rare, and until now, outbreaks had infected only a few hundred people at a time. But experts also acknowledge that the lack of follow-up on such a promising candidate reflects a broader failure to produce medicines and vaccines for diseases that afflict poor countries. Most drug companies have resisted spending the enormous sums needed to develop products useful mostly to countries with little ability to pay.


Credit: Wikimedia

Credit: Wikimedia

ISIS hits Iraq’s KRG from the south at Karatepe township

After U.S. airstrikes in August thwarted ISIS incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan from the northwest and broke the ISIS siege of the Amirli, a Shia Iraqi Turkmen town, a division of ISIS in the Diyala Governorate appears to have found a weak point in the armor on the southern side of the zone protected by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

As a result of the June pullbacks by Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi Army, the KRG sphere of responsibility for security now extends south into Diyala, but their peshmerga troops are stretched thin against ISIS and are concentrated on retaking territory in northern Iraq.

ISIS forces staged coordinated attacks against Kurdish peshmerga paramilitary forces all around the Kurdish zone’s perimeter on Monday, October 20, according to a report by Rudaw, the Iraqi Kurdish news agency. Most of these were much further north in the country, however, than Diyala Governorate.

Karatepe under fire

But an encircled group of ISIS fighters in Diyala took advantage of the large stretches of uninhabited and indefensible desert that make up the southern edge of Kurdish control to lead the day’s coordinated offensives by ferociously assaulting the predominantly Iraqi Turkmen community of Karetepe township, which they had apparently identified as vulnerable in a skirmish several days earlier and suicide-bombed the town the weekend before. (Karetepe is the local Turkmen spelling. It is generally spelled Qarah Tapah in Kurdish media and on Google Maps or Qara Tapa in English-language Iranian media.)


The lightly defended town came under heavy ISIS shelling and light arms fire, according to the Karetepe district leader, as reported in Rudaw:

The ISIS attacks began at the outskirts of Qarah Tapah, a town along Kurdistan’s south-western front also targeted by ISIS last week. Three Peshmerga were reported killed and others injured in an intense firefight, according to Mahmoud Sangawi, who is in charge of the district. “We repeatedly have been targeted with ISIS shells,” he said.

“They mean to take on the areas that are populated by Shia in order to carry out another onslaught on them,” Sangawi told Rudaw, referring to Shiite minorities who are living in villages around Qara Tapah.

“Islamic State suddenly began the attack in the early morning while most of people were asleep. They started bombarding the town but Peshmerga responded to their assault immediately,” a Qarah Tapah witness told Rudaw.

Peshmerga forces use intelligence resources to put their fighters on stand-by before an ISIS attack, but “the information this time seemed to be incomplete to guide us how to prepare for their attacks. They changed course and they attacked from different directions,” Sangawi told Rudaw after arriving at the frontline. “We will ultimately destroy them,” he said.


Cnes/Spot Image satellite photo of Karatepe (Qarah Tapah) township in Diyala Governorate.

Cnes/Spot Image satellite photo of Karatepe (Qarah Tapah) township in Diyala Governorate. Diyala is an agricultural province with large farms and orchards surrounded by larger deserts.

On October 21, the pressure mounted, according to a report by, the official online publication of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, the party which represents the ethnic minority in Iraq’s politics.

Yesterday morning ISIS launched an attack from three directions on Karatepe township of Diyala with mortar and other heavy weaponry. The local people were forced to leave their homes due to the fierce conflict between security forces and ISIS militants. The number of dead and injured have not been determined so far. ISIS militants have seized the western entrance of the town.

Operations Command indicated that until now Karatepe town had been under the control of the Peshmerga and police forces. Operations Command also indicated that fighter aircraft had started targeting the ISIS militants.

Head of Iraqi Turkmen Front and Kirkuk Member of Parliament Erset Salihi called on all Iraqi Turkmen Front offices and organizations in Hanekin and Kifri in the periphery of Karatepe and instructed them to open their doors to refugees and give them necessary assistance.

According to Iranian state media, which favors the Shia-led Iraqi central government, “targeting” of ISIS attackers by “fighter aircraft” refers to assistance by the Iraqi Air Force. I don’t have details on that, but it would likely consist of barrel-bombing from the unsophisticated and generally inept Iraqi Air Force. No coalition airstrikes around the town have yet been reported.

On October 22, Iraqi Turkmen political leaders called a press conference to assert their view that this is a targeted offensive intended to destroy an Iraqi Turkmen population center and is part of a wider systematic purge:

The Head of Iraqi Turkmen Front and Kirkuk MP Erset Salihi spoke at the press conference and demanded the liberation of Karatepe township.

In his statement Salihi said that it was clear that today Turkmen areas were being targeted. After Telefer, Besir Tazehurmatu regions came Amirli. ISIS has started to target all Turkmen regions such as Tuz, Kirkuk, Tavuk. This time the target was Karatepe township in Diyala which is a major Turkmen settlement area. Kurds, Turkmen and Arab inhabit the region in harmony.

“As Turkmen MPs, we demand that air and land interventions are [begun] as soon as possible to ensure the security of those people and that they are armed so that they can protect themselves, their families as well as the land they inhabit.”

AFP reporting, quoting a source inside the town, implied that the population of the town and surrounding villages was at least 18,000 prior to the start of ISIS bombardment and civilians evacuations. An estimated 9,000 people left in the first day of fighting.

Late in the day on Wednesday, the Kurdish peshmerga forces and the Iraqi Air Force appeared to declare a preliminary victory in the battle, but it remains to be seen whether this is a temporary win or a decisive repulsing of the ISIS offensive.

Why here, why now?

Although the ISIS forces in Diyala Governorate are relatively cut off from the rest of ISIS, they draw on a deep well of local support. During the second crest of the Iraq War, after the U.S. surge began, many disaffected Sunnis, Sunni separatists, and Sunni insurgents made the province a major staging ground for attacks on eastern Baghdad, U.S. forces, and Shia Arab paramilitaries. By the time of the U.S. departure, the province had become a hotbed of Sunni resentment toward then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose autocratic Shia-led government is widely blamed for triggering the rise of ISIS within Iraq over the past twelve or so months.

Overall, the province is home to a more diverse population than those Sunni Arab extremists would like, which may explain the choice of target at Karetepe, as the political leaders suggested in their press conference. Besides its isolation in the desert making it an easier target, the town is home to a contingent of the minority Iraqi Turkmen ethnic group (learn more — jump to bottom), which ISIS has previously attempted to conduct ethnic cleansing on, all over the Iraqi Turkmen homelands. In the north, the minority has been driven out by the tens of thousands along with Yazidis and other minorities. Most prominently, however, Iraqi Turkmen were nearly starved out during the siege at Amirli, near the provincial border of Diyala, until coalition airstrikes and aid drops began. Having failed to take Amirli, 61 kilometers northeast by highway, Karetepe may be a next-best target for sectarian purgers in the Diyala ISIS faction. Indeed, it is actually even more diverse than Amirli, with Arab and Kurdish residents in addition to the Iraqi Turkmen residents.


If ISIS were to dislodge Kurdish forces and fend off Iraqi government forces and Shia Arab paramilitaries, they would be able to initiate an ethnic cleansing campaign in Diyala province that would make it much more strongly Sunni Arab in its demographics. This would likely boost the separatist aims of the Diyala autonomy movement that attempted in late 2011 to declare the province a “semiautonomous region” on par with the Kurdistan Region. (While that effort was joined by the province’s Kurds, the current war has unofficially absorbed most if not all of the Kurdish areas into the neighboring Kurdish provinces, so they would probably no longer be involved in the movement.) The autonomy backers were met with hostility locally from other minorities in Diyala. The Shia Iraqi Turkmen population at Karatepe and elsewhere in the area is generally somewhat more favorable toward Baghdad and Shia Arab governance than the Sunni Arabs or Kurds.

Another strong possibility is that the ISIS forces in Diyala will put enough pressure on Karatepe to force a significant diversion of troops and resources by the KRG, Baghdad, or Shia Arab paramilitaries that other ISIS positions will be strengthened and could regain ground. At the moment they have been pushed back out of the town and its immediate environs, but that may shift again.

Learn More: Who are the Iraqi Turkmen?

Read more

October 22, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 104


Description: Interventions, Interference, and Invasions: Nate and Bill lead a world tour of the post-WWII history of countries entering other countries’ civil wars and uprisings, for good or ill, and what it means for the future. (We talk about Cuba, Angola, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Indonesia, Guatemala, Libya, Central African Republic, Mali, Somalia, and many others.) People: Bill, Nate. Produced: October 20th, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– Kissinger’s plan to bomb Cuba and what the future of the embargo is
– CIA history: Why arming rebels has often failed and what it means for US plans in Syria now
– What does the future hold for international and unilateral military interventions in armed conflicts and crises? Is the UN still relevant?

Part 1 – US/Cuban Relations:
Part 1 – US/Cuban Relations – AFD 104
Part 2 – CIA Track Record:
Part 2 – CIA Track Record – AFD 104
Part 3 – Future of Interventions:
Part 3 – Future of Interventions – AFD 104

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links
Segment 1

NYT: Kissinger Drew Up Plans to Attack Cuba, Records Show
AFD: Jimmy Carter’s Election Prevented a Disastrous War in Cuba
NYT Editorial Board: End the U.S. Embargo on Cuba

Segment 2

NYT: CIA Study Says Arming Rebels Seldom Works
AFD: Gen. Dempsey Outlines Proposed Syrian Rebels Plan

Segment 3

AFD: Confusion in Libya as Egyptian jets bomb Benghazi
AFD: US suddenly surprised to find Mideast states acting unilaterally
AFD: Is the US-led Syria operation vs ISIS legal under international law?
AFD: France announces indefinite Sahel deployment
AFD: France: Back to Africa?


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

Tunisia’s paradox

Flag-of-TunisiaTunisia — by comparison to the rest of the Arab Spring revolutions in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, or Syria — is essentially still the gold standard by leaps and bounds. There’s a moderate government, a fairly liberal constitution, elections were held and are about to be held again, there hasn’t been a coup d’état, there’s no major insurgency, and there’s no civil war.

But on the ground, in non-comparative terms, the picture is a little darker. The irony of the situation in Tunisia, in sum, is that they’ve gotten just enough freedom to be able to recruit for extremism but not enough freedom (and jobs, etc.) to stop a lot of people from being so angry that they want to join extremist causes.

The economic prospects remain about as dire as they were when a popular uprising over joblessness in December 2010 set the rest of the chain in motion, and the new government still hasn’t really managed to rein in the old regime’s extremely abusive police force (whose actions toward one street vendor sparked that uprising in the first place). Resentment is still very high, but the exploitative recruiters from fanatical ideologies now have the ability to recruit more openly than they did under the previous system.

And so it is, as the New York Times reports this week, that Tunisia has become a major source of (fighters and administrators) for the so-called “Islamic State” in eastern Syria and western Iraq, even as most Tunisians disapprove of the extremists.

While religious zealotry is certainly involved, the bigger factor still appears to be a deep-seated anger at the fundamentally unequal economic system of Tunisia, at the cruel security forces maintaining street-level control of people’s lives despite the revolution, and at everyone in the West who helped prop up the regime for decades. They hope to establish an economically fairer, utopian settler state and make new lives for themselves there, and they won’t be dissuaded by inconvenient truths about the realities of ISIS, because their own realities at home are bleak too.

Here’s a snippet from the Times report:

Mourad, 28, who said he held a master’s degree in technology but could find work only in construction, called the Islamic State the only hope for “social justice,” because he said it would absorb the oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchies and redistribute their wealth. “It is the only way to give the people back their true rights, by giving the natural resources back to the people,” he said.
Imen Triki, a lawyer at a nonprofit that has represented more than 70 returning Tunisians, described the thinking of many young ultraconservative Islamists, known as Salafis: “If I am going to get arrested and beaten here anyway, I might as well go where I can have an impact.”
Indeed, in dozens of conversations with young Tunisians, almost no one, whether sympathizers or critics, believed the news reports of the Islamic State’s mass killings or beheadings. “It is made up,” echoed Amar Msalmi, 28, a taxi driver. “All of this is manufactured in the West.”

The ruling party, which is moderate Islamist, has pledged to take a harder line against extremist recruitment but argues that the problem will only really be solved by turning the economy around and making serious progress in improving the lives of average citizens.

Chris Christie mocks adults earning minimum wage

Here’s a thing Chris Christie just said at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today:

“I gotta tell you the truth: I’m tired of hearing about the minimum wage. I really am.

“I don’t think there’s a mother or father sitting around a kitchen table in America tonight who are saying, ‘You know, honey, if our son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all of our dreams would be realized.’”

And if you haven’t immediately identified the problem with that statement (which I helpfully bolded), here’s a good summary from Steve Benen:

Also note the part of his comments related to children: as if the minimum wage is primarily for young people.

Whether Christie is tired of hearing the truth or not, the fact remains that the vast majority of Americans who work for the minimum wage are over the age of 20. About half of them work full time.

It’s not about creating economic conditions in which “all of their dreams would be realized”; it’s about creating economic opportunities for those who are struggling to keep their heads above water and combatting systemic poverty.

I’m a bit curious as to what sort of service industry jobs typically staffed by adults Christie believes are not paid at minimum wage (or arguably less, in the case of waitstaff jobs). I’m guessing he probably doesn’t interact directly with those people anyway, however.

chris-christieGovernor Christie’s efforts to block a minimum wage raise in New Jersey were eventually overturned by a statewide ballot initiative.

Had he and other political leaders raised the minimum wage at state and federal levels more consistently over the past couple decades, to keep pace with inflation, the real purchasing power of every minimum wage paycheck would have remained at levels high enough that people wouldn’t be bringing up the issue so frequently now. Instead, it was allowed to decline significantly in value, leaving full-time minimum wage workers and near-minimum wage workers below the poverty line and unable to make ends meet.

Raising the minimum wage further would help significantly boost aggregate demand in the economy and thus spur consumption-driven growth. The experience of other peer economies with higher prevailing wages has demonstrated that there is plenty of room to sustain higher wages before there are any harms to the job market. It would also reduce the burden on government assistance programs and allow small businesses to hire more people to meet the increased consumer demand resulting from people having more spending money available and less debt to pay off.

There was never a truce in Nigeria, just so we’re clear

On Friday, the world media foolishly decided yet again to take the Nigerian military at its word when they announced a truce with Boko Haram and a deal to release the kidnapped girls from Chibok. I explained, with a laundry list of evidence, why there was no reason to trust that this huge claim was true, especially with zero confirmation or comment from Boko Haram.

It only took a day for “we have a deal” to become they have “agreed in principle” to a deal, with negotiations to follow. And then came the explaining away of ongoing violence after a purported ceasefire.

A senior public affairs aide to the president, Doyin Okupe, told VOA that Boko Haram leadership is on board with the truce and that the violence was perpetrated by “fringe groups” of fighters who likely had not gotten word of the agreement.

Over the weekend, the violence continued to mount, undercutting any case that a ceasefire actually existed.

Suspected militant Islamists have shot and slaughtered people in three villages in north-east Nigeria, despite government claims that it had agreed a truce with them, residents say.

Boko Haram fighters raided two villages on Saturday, and raised their flag in a third, residents said.

The government said it would continue negotiating with Boko Haram, despite the alleged breach of the truce.

It hopes the group will this week free more than 200 girls it seized in April.

Boko Haram has not commented on the announcement made on Friday that a truce had been agreed, and that the militants would release the schoolgirls abducted from the remote north-eastern town of Chibok.

The government tried to point to the recent release of dozens of Cameroonian and Chinese prisoners as evidence that the purported negotiations were making progress, while skipping over the fact that they were released days before any such deal had been announced and were probably unrelated.

Moreover, the Nigerian government claims to be negotiating in nearby Chad with a man named Danladi Ahmadu, which has immediately raised all kinds of red flags… Read more

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