Friday, September 30, 2016

Libyan High State Council makes controversial decision

In a rather bizarre move the State Council of the UN-backed Libyan Government of National Accord(GNA) has said that it will take over full legislative authority of the GNA until the House of Representatives (HoR) votes confidence in the GNA.

According to the Libya Herald, the Council declared what it terms the "non-existence" of the HoR as it was envisaged by the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). What this seems to mean is simply that the HoR has not yet voted confidence in the GNA. It has twice rejected the GNA as presented to it. It has met many times to vote without achieving a quorum and had two meetings disrupted without a vote. The last rejection was on August 22nd and a new cabinet was to have been presented long ago with several weeks having passed since the deadline.
A recent statement by over 20 countries on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) website, reaffirms the position of most of the international community that the HoR remains the sole legitimate legislative authority of the GNA even though it has yet to actually become the legislature of the GNA. It will do so only when it amends the constitutional declaration of 2011 to incorporate the GNA and vote confidence in it.
The Council claims that it is acting in accordance with articles 16,17, and 18 of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). The articles referred to have nothing to do with the GNA but are all about the HoR and some of its duties. There is nothing in the LPA about the State Council taking over the legislative functions of the HoR. In fact, the State Council is clearly intended to be a mainly consultative body. The members of the Council are former members of the Salvation Government of the General National Congress (GNC) a former rival government to the HoR government of Abduallah Al-Thinni. The Salvation Government no longer exists as an actually functioning government with any power.
The second deputy president , Mohamed Muazeb said the actions of HoR president Ageela Saleh in helping the military take power in eastern Libya obliged the State Council to take its action. He said a military takeover, had been made evident when General Haftar's Libyan National Army began to replace elected mayors by military officials. He claimed this forced the State Council to assume legislative power.
At a press conference at the State Council's offices, Muazeb, together with Council president Abdulrahman Sewehli, and first deputy president Saleh Makhzoum, claimed that the refusal of the HoR to vote confidence in the GNA resulted in Libyans suffering from serious economic hardships and lack of security. Sewehli, while insisting that the LPA presents the only viable solution to the Libyan crisis also called on Libyans to close ranks and resist the military's attempted coup. He rejected any attempt by the HoR to change the LPA. Sewehli is no doubt making indirect reference to Article 8 that makes the PC serve as commander of the Libyan armed forces. He also said that Libyan allies should prevent "some countries" from interfering in Libyan affairs. He specifically mentions that some countries are helping Haftar's Operation Dignity campaign and violating the arms embargo.
It makes little sense to speak of the LPA as the way forward when the State Council move has no basis whatsoever in the LPA. Of course, everyone on the GNA side speaks of the LPA as the way forward including a recent declaration of more than 20 countries mentioned earlier who also reaffirm their position that the GNA is the only legitimate government and that countries should not recognize any parallel governments or institutions. The declaration is signed by among others, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arabe Emirates all of which have relations with and support Khalifa Haftar, or officials of the HoR government of Abdullah al-Thinni. The entire declaration of the State Council can be found on the Libya Herald's website.
Not all State Council members agreed with the statement. Belgassem Igzeit, a Council member from Misrata, said the move would escalate current divisions and for this reason was unacceptable. Even the UN envoy Martin Kobler was critical in a tweet: "Kobler: Concerned w/ unilateral decision of state council. LPA clear on separation of powers. HoR is the legislative authority of the state." He also said that there could be no unilateral action "politically or on the ground." Of course Kobler now accepts the unilateral action on the ground of Haftar's seizure of four Oil Crescent oil ports and his advance towards Sirte. He has said nothing about Haftar replacing elected authorities by military officials.
The HoR Deputy President Shouaib and HoR spokesperson Abdullah Bulaihak described the Council move as a coup. Shouaib also said that the move escalated the crisis in Libya and did nothing for dialogue. So far it seems as if dialogue has not done anything either. Shouaib said that Sewehili should be ignored. Bulahaik accused Sewehli off attacking the basic principles of the LPA which sets out the HoR as the sole legislature. That is true enough but as long as the HoR has not voted confidence in the GNA and amended the constitutional declaration the GNA as it exists has no legislature. Indeed, legally, I expect it could be argued that the GNA does not exist lawfully. So far the Presidency Council (PC) has not made a statement on the issue. It is not clear what practical effect if any the declaration by the Sate Council will have aside from making the situation even more divisive and complicated.

General Khalifa Haftar criticizes UN envoy Martin Kobler

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) , Martin Kobler, has been criticized by Khalifa Haftar and Ageela Saleh president of the House of Representatives (HoR) and rival government to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

The two said that Kobler also chief of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, was a failure and should be fired. Haftar told the Egyptian news source Al Ahram that Kobler was "meddling in very sensitive issues." Haftar has repeatedly refused requests by Kobler to meet with him. Nevertheless Kobler has gone ahead arranging meetings to try and accommodate Haftar and have him approve the GNA. Haftar said that he respected the UN and secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.
In the east especially, there have been demonstrations supporting the seizure of four Oil Crescent oil ports by Haftar and his Libyan National Army. The demonstrators were particularly angered that some EU states and the U.S. had condemned the seizure. There was a recent counter-attack that was repelled and Haftar has advanced east towards Sirte defeating forces of the Petroleum Facilities Guard.
In an interview with Russia Today TV, Saleh, who is subject to sanctions, said that Kobler was acting as if he were the ruler of Libya. Saleh claimed Kobler had deepened divisions within Libya rather than bringing people together. Just last week, Kobler had met Saleh in Cairo in an attempt to forge an agreement for a new GNA with Haftar on board. Kobler said that there had been "an open and frank exchange of views," but clearly there was no agreement. Saleh said that he was preparing a letter to the UN asking that Kobler be replaced. There is speculation that Norwegian Espen Eide has already been chosen to take over from Kobler.
Sputnik also reports on Saleh's criticism of Kobler. Saleh told Sputnik that Kobler is unable to do good for Libya and should be replaced if he does not change his ways. He said that a letter was being drafted to be sent to the UN asking that he be replaced if he did not change his approach saying: "This man intervenes in everything, but he will be incapable to do any good for Libya."
Kobler was named UN special envoy to Libya in November of 2014, replacing former envoy Bernardino Leon, who took a position in the UAE immediately after leaving.
The GNA presidency council (PC) was to have come up with a new reduced cabinet of eight ministers after a vote of confidence in the GNA was defeated in the House of Representatives on August 22nd. The deadline for submitting the new list has long passed but there is as yet no sign that the list has been prepared and no date has been set for an HoR meeting on the issue. Until the HoR votes confidence in the GNA, the GNA is without a legislature. Apparently, the State High Council of the GNA has decided that it can serve the function of a legislature for now. A recent tweet says: "#Libya: High Council of State will exercise full legislative powers in accordance with #LPA's articles 16, 17 & 18." Critics claim this is illegal.

Nine children killed in bombing by unidentified aircraft in southwestern Libya

At least nine civilians including children and women were killed and twenty wounded in an air strike by unidentified war planes near an oasis town in central Libya according to a hospital doctor and local officials.

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The strikes were near the town of Houn or Hun. the capital of the Jufra district of southwest Libya. The town is 240 km south of Sirte, and 272 km north of Sabha. In the area armed groups from forces loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) but also from General Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) loyal to the eastern HoR government both operate.
A spokesperson for the LNA said that the planes were from the western city of Misrata loyal to the GNA who meant to target an LNA brigade that had recently been in the area. But a spokesperson for the Misrata air force denied the claim saying that planes only carried out reconnaissance in the coastal area.
An eyewitness from Houn said residents heard war planes overhead before learning that civilians had been hit as the were visiting thermal springs south of the city. Many of the victims came from the nearby town of Al Shgega.
The Libyan Gazette gave a casualty figure of eight with twenty wounded.. The local hospital in Houn was said to be in a chaotic state.
Another report quotes Ahmed al-Mesmari, the spokesperson for forces loyal to Haftar as saying that fighter jets from Misrata carried out the raids while targeting Haftar's forces. He said no fighters were killed. Reda Eissa, a media official with the Misrata forces denied that they had carried out any raids in the area on Tuesday.
There were numerous twitters about the incident. Many seem to have been planted by one side or the other. Some were not verified and turned out to be false. Here is one blaming the GNA forces: " Airstrikes on #LNA position near #Jufrah by Libyan Dawn AF (GNA). They also hit a farm and killed 5 women. Via al Jufrah now" Another claims it resulted from a recent meeting of military officials loyal to the GNA: "Officers loyal to GNA met yesterday at Misrata airbase, resulting in today' airstrikes targeting LNA in Jufra #Libya". Another tweet mentions the specific brigade that was the alleged target of the attacks: "LNA 12th Bridage (led by Mohamed Bin Nael): No members wounded in air strike on Nina agricultural project in Jufrah " The actual place is called an agricultural project. Other reports speak of a farm and another of hot springs.
Whatever happened it was a tragedy that should not have happened. A tweet observes: "7 killed + a child lost her mother after airstrikes in #Jufra Only civilians will pay the price if civil war continues in #Libya #PRT "

Were there deliberate attempts to sabotage the Russian US peace deal?

The recent ceasefire negotiated by John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, created tension between the U.S. Pentagon and the Department of State.

Many in the U.S. military are quite distrustful of Russia. Ironically, apart from some violations of the ceasefire by both sides, the bombing of Syrian forces at Deir ez-Zor that killed over 60 Assad forces and allowed the Islamic State to temporarily seize a key hill overlooking the airport held by the Assad government was the first very serious challenge to the ceasefire. The U.S. claimed that the attacks were a mistake but many Russian sources immediately accused the U.S. of deliberately attacking the troops because they oppose the Assad government to such a degree that they are even willing to help the Islamic State against Assad forces.
The situation was not helped by the subsequent Security Council meeting in which the U.S. envoy to the UN called the Russian call for an emergency meeting a "stunt'. Instead of trying to calm the situation both sides seemed to determined to exacerbate tensions. Kerry and Lavrov had worked hard against the odds to arrive at the ceasefire in the first place. Both sides have trouble controlling parties on each side who did not really want the ceasefire in the first place. While the attacks may have been an honest mistake, they also could have been an attempt to sabotage the ceasefire while hurting Assad.
The next serious event was an attack on an aid convoy. A Guardian report, along with many others, describes the attacks as airstrikes. The report blamed Russia for the attack whether Russian planes were involved or not, as Russia was responsible under the ceasefire agreement for keeping Assad's forces in line. Yet it is not clear that the convoys were subject to air attacks.
Al Arabiya reports:The United Nations on Tuesday has backtracked and amended its language when it said that the aid convoy in Syria’s Aleppo was “attacked” instead of it being targeted through “air strikes,” a spokesman said. “We are not in position to determine whether these were in fact air strikes,” the spokesman added.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that the White Helmets defense rescue group it says were close to the former Nusra Front could answer who was responsible and why. The ministry also later said that drone footage showed the aid convoy was accompanied by pickup truck of militants with heavy mortar gun. Presumably they were there to guard the shipment, but then these days who knows? On the face of it, it is not clear that either side gains by the attack unless they wanted the cease-fire to be sabotaged.
After the attack, the Red Cross suspended all convoys on Tuesday. An opposition activist said that the attack destroyed at least eight vehicles along with the Red Crescent regional aid depot. At least 12 people were killed according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and opposition activists. For some reason mainstream sources often cite the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights even though it is run by one person out of the U.K. although he has many contacts in Syria. U.S. officials say that unlike the U.S. attack on Assad, which was a mistake, there could be no similar excuse from Russia since the destination of the convoy was known to both Russia and the Syrian regime. No mention has been made by the officials that there is any question about whether there was an air attack.
Whether or not, the U.S. attack on Assad troops or the attack on the aid convoy were deliberately planned to sabotage the ceasefire, they effectively did so. Kerry has said that the Syrian ceasefire is not dead after talks with Russia and other powers with a stake in the civil war. He also said there would be talks later this week. Meanwhile the battle rages on with Aleppo under constant attack.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

General Haftar beats back counter attack on Libyan oil ports and advances towards Sirte

Forces of the Petroleum Facilities Guard(PFG) headed by Ibrahim Jodhran, retreated from Es Sidra and Ras Lanuf just a few hours after having retaken them from General Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) forces.

The counter-attack was repulsed with air attacks that appear to be by foreign airplanes. The PFG accused Egypt and the UAE of carrying out the bombings. They said four PFG fighers were killed. Defence Minister Al-Mihdi Al-Baraghati said: “There are strong indications that UAE and Egyptian warplanes have bombed PFG forces in Ras Lanuf and Sidra, we are now making sure of these indications”.
Mohamad Ibset, a spokesperson for Haftar's forces confirmed that there had been a counter-attack by the PFG at least on Ras Lanuf but did not mention El Sidra that the PFG also claim to have attacked. Spokesperson for the PFG, Ali al-Hassi claimed: “We attacked Al-Sidra and Ras Lanuf, and Haftar’s forces are trying to hit us with their warplanes.” The clashes halted the first loading of oil cargo from Ras Lanuf since 2014. Haftar had agreed to turn over the ports to the Tripoli-based NOC as long as the NOC lifted the force majeure covering the ports so that oil could be exported.
There is a merger between the two rival national oil companies (NOC), the one based in Tripoli associated with the GNA and the other in Bayda associated with the HoR government. The merger was not completed as the HoR rejected it but negotiations between the heads of the two NOCs are to continue this week. Meanwhile Haftar appears to have accepted the Tripoli NOC for now. Unlike the PFG who accept the GNA and had a deal with them to export oil, Haftar does not recognize the GNA.
Haftar's forces were not content just to repel the counter attack. They have advanced to take control of towns further to the west that PFG forces had captured earlier from the Islamic State. A tweet claims: "#Libya army 101 Brigade takes control of Bin Jawad from Ibrahim Jadran's forces." However, Haftar's forces are advancing even further west towards Sirte with another tweet claiming: "Some PFG units to hand themselves and arms to LNA in Harawah, after local tribesmen guarenteed them a just trial." Another tweet says: "Reports that pro haftir forces have entered Ben Jawad and heading westward to harawa about 70km east of sirte" . A later tweet announces that Harawa was captured: "Harawa announced as under control of LNA , 40 PFG members taken in custody." A final tweet sounds an ominous note: "Col. Mo bennayel from east sirt We r ready to invade Misrata&liberate sirt from its militia any time " Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) forces are within striking distance of Sirte. The silence of the UN, its envoy Martin Kobler, and the GNA on this lightning advance of Hafter to take territory formerly under the control of forces loyal to GNA, is striking.

Islamic State in Libya still resisting in one last district in Sirte

While there have been many announcements of the final battle to liberate Sirte from the remnants of the Islamic State(IS) there are a few IS fighters still holding out in one small area of the city.

Earlier, it had been predicted that the battle would be over before the Eid celebrations. It was not to be. Now that the holiday is over a renewed push to finish the job appears to be taking place. The forces of Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous (Solid Structure or BAM) are allied with the UN-supported Government of National Accord. The majority of the fighters are with brigades from the city of Misrata. Since August 1st, the BAM forces have been supported by air strikes by the U.S. as part of Operation Odyssey Lightning. The operation was extended for thirty days at the beginning of September. There are also a few special forces from the U.S. and the U.S. is providing logistical and other assistance to the BAM forces.
A Reuters report claims that two were killed in clashes today and six wounded according to a spokesperson from Misrata General Hospital, after the BAM forces shelled areas where the remaining IS fighters are hiding. Mohamed Ghasri a spokesperson for the BAM forces said: "Our forces targeted on Sunday hideouts of Daesh in Neighbourhood No.3's 600 block area and Geza Bahriya with heavy artillery shelling." "Daesh" is an Arabic term for the Islamic State. Ghasri also claimed that two IS commanders, Hassam Karami, and Waldi Ferjani, had been killed during fighting inside Sirte.
A military source told the Libya Prospect, that BAM forces had entered the remaining sections of district 3 in Sirte, calling it the decisive battle against the few IS fighters who remained in the city. The source said that artillery and tanks had begun shelling the area of the 656 residential buildings, Al-Jeeza, Al-Bahrea, 656 houses, and social security district. The source said that the forces had been in a break for the past few days as they prepare a plan.
A report from the Middle East Eye claims that the BAM forces were able to detonate two suicide vehicles before the IS suicide bombers could detonate their vehicles. Reda Issa, a spokesperson for the BAM forces said that field commanders held several meetings before deciding to resume after what was said to be a two-week lull. Issasaid: "Progress is now being achieved and our forces are clashing with Daesh fighters." The BAM forces captured several buildings, including a school that had been made into a car bomb factory, and also a field hospital.
Since the offensive against Sirte began months ago, 450 BAM forces have been killed and about 2,500 wounded. The Misrata hospital, the only one in the region has been overwhelmed as it tries to cope with the casualties. The situation has been one reason the offensive has slowed so there will be less casualties. Fortunately, Italy is setting up a field hospital in Misrata to treat the wounded. There will be about 65 doctors and nurses, 135 logistics staff, and 100 troops to provide security. Work is already underway.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

National Reconciliation Conference suffers from divisions

A National Reconciliation Conference was held in the city of Nalut in western Libya near the Tunisian border. The conference was sponsored by the Nalut City Council.

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The conference attracted about one thousand delegates from throughout Libya. According to Wikipedia: "Nalut is the capital of the Nalut District[4] in Libya. Nalut lies approximately halfway between Tripoli and Ghadames, at the western end of the Nafusa Mountains coastal range, in the Tripolitania region." It is a Berber community.
The conference got off to a rocky start on Friday when a number of delegates objected that the national anthem was not played or the Libyan flag displayed. Organizers explained that the opening was held in a mosque where it was thought to be inappropriate to display the national flag and sing the national anthem. The solution was to break up into smaller meetings in the homes of their hosts. According to a tweet: "2/4 Objections by supporters of former regime to start conference w/ National Anthem & display National Flag delayed the start."
The official opening took place on Saturday. Delegates were from such diverse groups as pro-Gadaffi supporters, the Benghazi Shura Council, and federalists from Barqa (Cyrenaica). There were no forums held but there was a five point closing statement issued:1-The communique underscored the assurance of the integrity of the unity of Libya’s territory. 2-It rejected external interference in Libya’s internal affairs. 3-It rejected any meeting regarding Libya being held outside Libya and supported the Libya-Libya dialogue. 4-It supported state institutions in the form of the army, police and judiciary under the legitimacy of the state. 5-It announced comprehensive de-escalation measures and the formation of committees to draw up a roadmap for national reconciliation.
A tweet from the Fezzan Libyan Group said: "Southern tribes have withdrawn from the #Nalut tribal dialogue. One representative said it was just chaos and a waste of time. #Libya"
Another incident marred the gathering. A speech by the Tobruk parliament's envoy Abu Al-Ghazali began by fulsome praise of the Libyan National Army commanded by Haftar. The speech was interrupted a number of times and many participants simply walked out as a protest. An organizer rebuked Al-Ghazali saying: "Did you come here to spoil the conference or speak about the army? We are here to reconcile, we are all against terrorism, you divide us because of a person (Haftar).” A tweet noted: "3/4 Today, speech by #HoR member from #Sirte el-Ghazali angered the rest of delegations, prompting #Mayor of #Nalut to stop him." The conference ended shortly after with the statement quoted earlier.

Canadian debt greater than GDP in second quarter this year

Canadian household debt's ratio to household income rose to a record high in the second quarter according to statistics just released by Statistics Canada.

The report is likely to raise concerns that Canadian consumers are overborrowing. Statistics show that the ratio of household debt to disposable household income rose to 169.85 percent from 167.37 percent in the first quarter. For every dollar of disposable income, Canadians are spending $1.70. The ratio of household debt to gross domestic product rose to 100,54 per cent compared to 98.7 percent in the first quarter. This means the total household debt during the quarter was slightly greater than the value of GDP during the quarter.
The long period of low interest rates after the financial crisis have encouraged Canadians to take on more debt. This is especially true with respect to buying homes, with the result that prices have shot up in most markets. In markets such as Vancouver or Toronto houses are simply too expensive for the average Canadian to purchase.Many Canadians believe that housing for them is no longer affordable and even those thinking of buying a house worry that the price rise is a bubble that will burst. At the end of the second quarter, Canadian mortgage debt was at $1.29 trillion.
Borrowing by Canadians in the second quarter was $29.2 billion, seasonally adjusted. This is $3.5 billon more than in the first quarter. Mortgages accounted for $19.1 billion of the total up from $18.4 billion in the first quarter. The Bank of Canada has said the high debt level posed a vulnerability for the financial system, and that the amount of debt compared to disposable income was becoming alarming. The continued rise in home prices has increased the net worth of Canadians at an average of $271,300 as compared to $266, 900 in the first quarter.
Laura Cooper, of the Royal Bank of Canada, said: “Households are in an increasingly precarious position” and “should continue to be cautious" about adding debt. However, the share of mortgage loans in household debt has remained stable at 65.6 percent. This is the first time since 1910 that the mortgage loan share has not increased from quarter to quarter. In spite of the high levels of debt, most families are able to meet their debt obligations with credit-market debt still at only about 20 percent of their net worth.

Meetings in Cairo to discuss plans for a new unity government

Faiez Serraj, who is the Prime Minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) is meeting in Cairo with Ageelah Saleh, president of the rival House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk.

Reportedly, the two are attempting to come up with a government lineup that is acceptable to GNA and HoR. Saleh, who is sanctioned by the EU and US for obstructing the vote of confidence in the LPA, wants a down-sized government acceptable to each side. The HoR had earlier rejected a government with 30 ministers. On August 22 they rejected a government of 17 ministers and asked that the GNA return with a government with only 8 ministers. The deadline given for the presentation has long passed. No one even bothers to mention this anymore.
According to Ramzi Ramieh, a Libyan military analyst, the talks are centered on building a tightly knit government of under a dozen people. Ramieh said that Saleh and Serraj were trying to form a government with a three-member defense council, including Haftar, and a three-member presidential council (PC), "along with representatives of Serraj and PM of the HoR Al-Thinni". It is not clear how this can be reconciled with the present LPA which makes no mention of a defense council as I recall and which assigns the function of commander in chief to the PC. No mention as to whether Haftar has agreed to this. There are conflicting reports about what is happening. Certainly many in the present PC, GNA, and State Council will refuse to serve in a government that gives a prominent role to Haftar. While Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General is busy trying to devise schemes to accommodate Hafter within the GNA and form a unified GNA, Haftar is busy strengthening his power by seizing four oil ports and making GNA look weaker and less effective day by day. Kobler who said that Haftar's seizure of the ports would make exports more difficult is now praising the renewed exports of oil. In contrast to the statement of six nations including the U.S. and U.K. who condemned the seizure and demanded that the forces withdraw, Egyptian Foreign Minister Choukri said: “Egypt supports the legitimacy and actions of the Libyan army to maintain security in the country.” Another source confirms Shoukry's statement: "Egypt fully supports the Libyan army's moves to maintain security and stability of Libya and to secure its oil wealth,"
The Libya Herald reports that little information has been revealed about the talks between Serraj and Saleh. One obvious topic is the size and composition of the new cabinet that the HoR long ago requested be presented for a vote of confidence. However, the Herald notes that Egyptian media are suggesting that they are also talking of an Armed Forces Supreme Council. This must be the three member defense council as mentioned in the previous report, which was from the VOA.
The Herald version has five members: Serraj, Ahmed Maetig, Saleh, Khalifa Haftar, Ali Gatrani. The Herald points out that there is no such body mentioned in the LPA and that it is inconsistent with article 8 that make the PC, commander in chief. In a tweet with an accompanying photo Kobler says: "Open and frank exchange of views w/ HoR president #Agila & PC Member #Qatrani on the way forward in framework of LPA." Kobler has insisted that Haftar play a role in the GNA government even though many in the government reject his playing any role. Meanwhile, Haftar continues consolidating his power and gaining support. He may even decide to carry onOperation Dignity right within Tripoli the seat of the GNA government by invading the city using militia allies in the area. Ironic, that Saleh, sanctioned by both EU and U.S. is a key negotiator in these meetings.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Leaked documents show pervasive influence of money in Wisconsin politics

Documents leaked to the Guardian comprising 1,500 pages collected as part of a probe, the John Doe files, were evidence gathered by prosecutors to show alleged irregularities in political fundraising.

The documents point towards the pervasive influence of cash, corporate and otherwise, in the political process in Wisconsin. However the Wisconsin Supreme Court last year found that the documents do not show that anything illegal was done:
On July 16, 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4–2 that Walker did not illegally collaborate with conservative groups during the recall campaigns. Writing for the majority in the case, Justice Michael Gableman stated: “To be clear, this conclusion ends the John Doe investigation because the special prosecutor’s legal theory is unsupported in either reason or law,” he said, “Consequently, the investigation is closed.”[121]
Not satisfied simply in ruling there was no illegality, the court also ordered that all the documents gathered during the investigation be destroyed. However, obviously at least one set was preserved and given to the Guardian. While they may reveal nothing illegal, according to the Guardian:The files open a window on a world that is very rarely glimpsed by the public, in which millions of dollars are secretly donated by major corporations and super-wealthy individuals to third-party groups in an attempt to sway elections. They speak to a visceral theme of the 2016 presidential cycle: the distortion of American democracy by big business that has been slammed by both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court tried to close this window, and no doubt protect the elite whose laws they are meant to uphold. The fact that nothing may be found to be illegal may be a consequence of lax laws pertaining to political financing in Wisconsin. There is currently a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue.
Among the leaked documents are hundreds of pages of email exchanges involving conversations with Walker, his top aides, conservative lobbyists, and leading Republican figures. Ironically, Trump's name appears in the files as making a $15,000 donation after Walker made a personal visit to Trump's headquarters. Walker is well-known as a supporter of many right-wing causes. Among the names cropping up in the files are Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone, hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, and the Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. One e-mail says: “I got $1m from John Menard today." Menard is head of the home improvement chain Menards.
The material shows that donations totaling $750,000 were made to a third-party group closely allied with Walker, from the owner of NL industries a company that had produced lead paint. It just so happens that within the same time-frame the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature passed new laws making it more difficult for victims of lead poisoning to sue. Walker claims the law had nothing to do with the donation.
Among the interesting files are documents which show Walker allies helped David Prosser, a member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court to retain his seat in a 2011 re-election. A network of groups and campaigners spent $3.5 in undisclosed corporate funds to pay for TV and radio ads that backed the judge. Apparently Wisconsin law does not require disclosure of the funding. Walker is famous for his anti-union legislation: Shortly after his inauguration in 2011, Walker introduced a budget plan which limited the collective bargaining of most Wisconsin public employees. The response to Walker's policies included protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol and an effort to recall Walker. In the 2012 recall election, Walker again defeated Barrett, becoming the first American governor to survive a recall effort. In 2014, Walker defeated his Democratic challenger, businesswoman and Madison school board member Mary Burke. Walker was a candidate for his party's nomination to the 2016 presidential election.
The documents show the Walker administration was anxious to retain the right-wing majority on the court, in order to preserve his anti-union measures. One e-mail reads: “If we lose [Justice Prosser], the Walker agenda is toast." The email was sent to the Governor's chief of staff, and several conservative lobbyists. In the 2015 decision, Justice Prosser refused to recuse himself when the court considered the John Doe investigation. It is hardly a surprise that he along with four other conservative judges voted both to terminate the investigation and destroy all the documents amassed by the investigators. Prosser explained that four years had passed since his re-election and before he joined the decision in the John Doe case. Over that time any potential conflict of interest had faded he said.
Walker and others subject to the investigation point out that no charges have ever been brought in the case, and that a number of Wisconsin courts, including the Supreme Court have cleared them of wrongdoing. They claim the charges are baseless and there is no evidence of wrongdoing. The third-party lobby groups claimed that the investigators had accused wholly innocent people of crimes that do not exist under state law. This may be because state law is lax as the petition mentioned earlier claims. There is a difference between wrongdoings that are illegal and legal wrongdoings that involve using money to buy political influence. The facts surely show that the investigators found evidence of the latter. Apparently the Wisconsin Supreme Court thinks that the public have no right to see the evidence of such wrongdoings and come to their own opinions. The Guardian analysis of the documents have provided a public service while the Wisconsin Supreme Court protects the people involved in questionable practices from public scrutiny.

General Haftar turns control of seized ports to National Oil Company

The four export ports in Libya's Oil Crescent seized by Libyan general Khalifa Haftar were turned over to the Libyan National Oil Company based in Tripoli.

General Haftar launched Operation Surprise Lightning on September 11. With little resistance, Haftar's forces ended up in control of four ports: Ras Lanuf, Es Sidra, Zuwetina, and Brega. Haftar subsequently turned over control of the ports to the Tripoli-Based NOC. I believe that the situation as it is now is the result of an agreement between the head of the NOC Mustafa Sanalla and Haftar. The agreement I believe was along the following lines. Haftar would seize the ports that were under the control of the Petroleum Forces Guards a group whose leader Ibrahim Jodhran Sanalla hates. He had vehemently criticized the deal between the GNA and Jadhran even though Jadhran, unlike Haftar, accepted the authority of the GNA. In return, Haftar would agree to turn over the ports to the control of the NOC. As a reward for doing so, the NOC would ensure that the rival government, the HoR government of PM Al-Thinni would receive a share of the proceeds from oil revenues that it found acceptable. Sanalla would also lift the force majeure that was preventing foreign ships from loading oil for export at the ports.
It seems Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secreatry-General (SRSG) and many in the international community were not aware of the deal or at least their actions suggest that they were expecting the deal to make it more difficult to export oil. Kobler said that it would make oil export more difficult. Six nations issued a statement echoing Kobler and also demanding that Haftar withdraw his military forces. You will not hear that demand repeated any more. The emerging consensus is that oil exports will now be quickly increased. As a recent tweet puts it: "Two oil vessels docked at #RasLanuf and #Brega today to load over 1.2 million barrels of crude #OilCrescent." Sanalla had made Kobler look foolish in claiming that oil exports would be more difficult. Sanalla hated Kobler for arranging the deal with Jadhran. He was also angry with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in that it had not been advancing the money needed to do work on damaged oil facilities. The nations asking for a withdrawal will no doubt be silent from now on about the issue and applaud the great leap forward toward greater production and export of oil from Libya.
For some reason the press often shows not the slightest curiousity about the most obviously important issues. To illustrate this consider the Reuters and Wall Street Journal's report on the merger of the Tripoli-based National Oil Company (NOC) associated with the GNA and the Bayda-based NOC associated with the Al-Thinni government and the House of Representatives. The issue of the division of the oil revenues is not discussed at all or even brought up. The Reuters report does say: "The NOC said it recognized the presidential council as the executive and also the parliament in the east, the House of Representatives. It would report to both bodies... It plans to make its new headquarters in the eastern city of Benghazi." Note that the deal recognizes the parliament in the east, the HoR. However as things stand now this is in fact recognizing a parallel institution: the HoR government of Al-Thinni supported by Haftar. The merger also agreed to move the headquarters to Benghazi, a city controlled by the HoR rival government. So much for not dealing with parallel institutions.
Yet this was not enough for the HoR, which rejected the merger. Whatever the deal was with respect to dividing revenues it did not satisfy the HoR. Al-Thinni PM of the HoR totally rejected the deal and among other things demanded: "Based on regional interest, Al-Thanni demanded that 40 percent in net oil revenues must be allocated to the eastern region and the remaining 60 percent goes to the western and southern regions." No follow up on this by the press. However a recent tweet shows that the deal is still not agreed upon and that the heads of the two rival NOC's will meet soon to finish the deal: "#Libya | Chairman of eastern NOC says he'll meet Tripoli NOC chairman next week to unite the two corporations & re-open oil ports."
The NOC will now most certainly be funding not just the GNA but also the rival government of Al-Thinni and the HoR. Haftar can make sure that the division of receipts is sufficient for adequate funding of his armed forces. The UN and Kobler go on about the necessity not to deal with parallel institutions. However, its monopsonic NOC has obviously made a deal that ensures a rival parallel government is well funded. If the NOC breaks the deal, the ports and oil fields could very well close again. We have returned to the two government system that existed when the HoR and GNC Salvation Government were rivals.
The lose-lose situation where there were no oil revenues may no doubt be replaced by one in which Haftar is able to see oil exported from the ports he controls under the auspices of the officially accepted NOC associated with the GNA. However the merged NOC is also associated with and reports to the HoR and will be forced to finance the rival government. The headquarters will even be moved to Benghazi where Haftar, Al Thinni, and the sanctioned Saleh hold sway. For Sanallah this is fine in that under the former two governments the NOC was also neutral though based in Tripoli. He retained his job and got rid of the hated Jadhran. He also made Kobler look like a fool. Not a bad deal.
Of course my view may be completely wrong. There may be no deal at all. Sanalla and Haftar simply want to save Libya from that pirate Jadhran and ensure that since Libyan oil belongs to all Libyans its increased production and exports will result in revenues that will be distributed to and benefit all Libyans. Given that foreign oil companies benefit from what has happened perhaps this is the narrative that will prevail and be upheld by experts.

US Russia cease fire agreement caused tension between State Dept. and Pentagon

The deal between Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated with Russia for a ceasefire in Syria has increased the tension between Kerry and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

The cease-fire agreement took effect at sundown last Monday. Although violence has been reduced, there have been a number of violations and problems. The situation was not improved by Assad saying he intended to recapture all areas of Syria.
Carter had been one of several administration officials who argued against the agreement in a conference call with the White House that included Kerry. President Obama eventually approved the agreement after a long debate. However, Pentagon officials were not convinced. Pentagon officials would not even agree to the proposal that if violence ceases for a week, the next day the U.S. and Russia would share information on Islamic State targets in Syria. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of the United State Air Forces Central Command said: “I’m not saying yes or no. It would be premature to say that we’re going to jump right into it.” However even the White House press secretary expressed doubts: “I think we’d have some reasons to be skeptical that the Russians are able or are willing to implement the arrangement consistent with the way it’s been described. But we’ll see.”
Kerry wants the U.S. to do everything possible to keep Assad from bombing civilians. He hopes that the agreement will keep Assad from such bombings. Kerry has had success dealing with the Russians before. Just two years ago on Sept. 14 he negotiated a surprise agreement with Sergei Lavrov to eliminate Assad's chemical weapons. The agreement does not include chlorine which appears to have been used recently. Kerry was also successful in negotiation of a nuclear deal with Iran against much opposition from many U.S. politicians However, in spite of many attempts, he failed to revive Middle East peace talks.
Apparently Kerry himself believes the deal may not work but he is determined to try anyway because it is so important to relieve some of the suffering and stop the violence that has taken about half a million lives already. The problem is that neither side may be able to adequately control Assad or some of the rebel groups. Already, UN trucks with aid for Aleppo were stuck at the Turkish border awaiting permission from the Assad government to enter Syria.
Kerry's positive negotiations and cooperation with Russia are happening in a climate in which the U.S., especially the military, takes a very combative stand against Russia on issues such as Crimea and the rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. military is not vey anxious to share intelligence with a country that it increasingly considers an adversary.
Gen. Philip Breedlove, who was until recently NATO's supreme allied commander said:“I remain skeptical about anything to do with the Russians. There are a lot of concerns about putting out there where our folks are.” A measure of the sensitivity of the agreement is that the State Department has not released the text of the agreement or even a fact sheet summarizing it.
It remains to be seen whether the cease-fire holds for seven days. No doubt there will be numerous violations even if it holds. If both sides agree the cease-fire held then the U.S. and Russia are to begin to share intelligence on targeting the Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front. The U.S. military worries that any such sharing would reveal information about U.S. tactics and intelligence gathering methods.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Libyan state oil company releases positive statement after seizure of oil wells by General Haftar

The seizure of the four oil export ports in the Libyan Oil Crescent has resulted in a positive statement from the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation in contrast to the response of the UN which complained it could hinder expansion of exports.

The Tripoli-based National Oil Company(NOC) said that it would begin work immediately to restart exports from Oil Crescent ports. NOC chair Mustafa Sanalla said:
“We welcome statements from the Libyan National Army allied with House of Representatives and the president of the HoR, Aguila Saleh, that the ports should be placed under NOC’s control, our technical teams already started assessing what needs to be done to lift force majeure and restart exports as soon as possible. As Libyans we have a common interest in keeping our oil flowing. By raising oil production and exports we can reduce our budget deficit and pay for vital services.”
There are actually two NOC's one based in Tripoli and associated with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and the other in Bayda associated with the Al-Thinni government of the House of Reprersentatives (HoR). These two were supposedly merged in an agreement in July but the HoR rejected the agreement: Speaking to Dignity Operation's Alhadat TV last Monday, Al-Thanni said the agreement will not be accepted until certain preconditions are met. Based on regional interest, Al-Thanni demanded that 40 percent in net oil revenues must be allocated to the eastern region and the remaining 60% goes to the western and southern regions.Operation Dignity was launched by Haftar back in May 2014 and is to a considerable extent responsible for the present conflict with the GNA. There is no mention of this division in most analyses, including in reports by "experts". An excellent analysis of the situation in this article which argues that the port takeover could provide an opportunity to export more oil also does not mention the issue. Both Haftar and the Tripoli-based NOC speak just of the NOC. But which does Haftar mean?
Back in July Haftar and the HoR recognized only the Bayda NOC: "Abdulraziig al-Nadori, Chief of the General Staff of the House of Representatives, warned foreign ships not to enter Libyan territorial waters without a permit from the Bayda-based National Oil Company (NOC) or risk being targeted by air or ground forces." However there have been exports from Hariga port that is under the control of forces loyal tol Haftar according to this article. Sanalla appears to welcome the replacement of Jadhran whom he hated by Haftar as controller of the ports. Sanalla was outraged by the deal with Jadhran and is no doubt happy it was sabotaged by Haftar. However, Haftar does not accept the GNA but the HoR as the legitimate government. What is left out of all accounts of what is happening is that the NOC merger still needs to be finalized.
This will involve the GNA again dealing with parallel institutions this time the Bayda-based NOC. A tweet makes it clear that the merger still has to be finalized: "#Libya | Chairman of eastern NOC says he'll meet Tripoli NOC chairman next week to unite the two corporations & re-open oil ports." In other words the Bayda-based NOC now backed by Haftar who occupies the ports will be able to drive a hard bargain with the NOC if it wants to open the ports. You will find nothing of this in reports — at least those I have seen. The NOC statement said: "Under a unity agreement signed in July, ‎NOC recognizes the Presidency Council as the highest executive authority and the House of Representatives as the highest legislative authority. A central aim of the agreement is to ensure that Libya’s oil wealth is used for the benefit of all Libyans." Not a peep about the fact that the HoR never approved the unity agreement. Is this meant deliberately to mislead or is it incompetence? It is in Haftar's interest to seem to go along with the Tripoli-based NOC, but if the HoR does not achieve a deal that it approves, he will not hesitate to act.
A tweet says: "Khalifa Haftar: I will make sure the Army does not interfere w/ oil business,which is a civilian matter. Army complied w/ its national duty." He may very well keep his promise but he will let the HoR take care of the issue not the GNA. He will cooperate as long as he thinks the HoR managed to arrive at a good deal. Otherwise he may as part of his "patriotic duty" stop oil production and exports.
Maybe Haftar hopes things will not work out. This can provide a rationale for continuing on with Operation Dignity by defeating militias associated with the GNA. As a recent tweet explains: "Spokesperson of Dignity Operation Ahmed Mismari threatens to invade Tripoli, saying their troops are very close to Tripoli and Zawia." The UN and the GNA have shown themselves to be hopelessly weak. Haftar has successfully weakened them even further. Oil interests don't care what happens as long as they can have access to Libyan oil on reasonable terms for them. Haftar will become more and more attractive as an alternative to the LPA and the GNA. He can always be praised and promoted as a champion of the war on terrorism. All his opponents will become terrorists. Other leaders have made similar claims: Gadaffi, Assad, El-Sisi.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

UN envoy's statement to the UN security council on the situation in Libya

Martin Kobler, the UN envoy to Libya, briefed the UN Security Council today on the situation in Libya after forces of General Khalifa Haftar seized four oil ports from the Petroleum Forces Guard (PFG).

After the meeting Kobler issued a statement on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) website. The statement has much more information and detail than many of Kobler's statements. Kobler said that he wanted to brief the council on four points: the worrying security situation; the political momentum created by the recent decision of the House of Representatives; the need for national reconciliation; and the failing economy.
For once, Kobler actually mentions Haftar: On the eve of Eid Al Adha, the fragile peace in Libya’s Oil Crescent has suffered a fierce blow when units of the Libyan National Army under the command of General Khalifa Haftar attacked the oil terminals and ports in the Oil Crescent area. This area was under the control of forces loyal to the Presidency Council. I was concerned that this might happen. This development will further hinder oil exports, deprive Libya of its only source of income, and increase the division of the country. This has to stop.Kobler said he was concerned these attacks might happen. Yet he did nothing to stop them. He must have known as well that tribal leaders were urging LFG fighters to not resist. The GNA is shown to be weak and powerless to prevent Haftar from taking control of key resources from the GNA. Kobler says that Haftar's action has to stop. It has. He won. The GNA must now deal with him.
Kobler claims that the oil belongs to all Libyans and must be exported legally under the authority of the Presidency Council (PC) Up until now Haftar has not accepted the authority of the PC. Perhaps Haftar will deal with the Tripoli NOC but so far he has insisted that the Bayda NOC was the only legitimate NOC.
Kobler calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities. This means that Haftar has won, as his seizure of the ports is accepted. All the rhetoric about disturbing the peace, and creating greater division, does not mean that Kobler has any intention of restoring the ports to the control of GNA. Haftar now will decide whether the terms of export are acceptable or not. He is in the same situation as Jadhran the head of the PFG used to be. Oil exports are subject to terms which Haftar must approve.
At first some statements from the GNA suggested that there would be a counterattack. A recent tweet claims: "Pres Council should refrain from launching offensive to recapture terminals and instead engage in negotiations with LNA." The PC has also accepted Haftar's occupation of the ports as a given.
Kobler mentions SC resolution 2259 that recognizes the PC and GNA as the sole executive authority in Libya. The fact is that the oil ports are now occupied by Haftar's forces and he does not recognize the PC or GNA. Kobler just accepted the change from the area being controlled by the GNA and forces loyal to it, to a situation where it is controlled by a person who recognizes a rival government that of the HoR. Kobler not only accepts that situation but demands that no one use force to change it. The situation is to be solved through dialogue. That is, Kobler is recommending that the GNA and Tripoli NOC negotiate with what is in effect a parallel government and parallel military. According to SC resolutions this is to be avoided. To sanction negotiations is to recognize that the GNA and its NOC while the sole legitimate powers must recognize the HoR and Haftar as legitimate partners in the "dialogue". It shows the weakness of the GNA and the emptiness of UN rhetoric. Kobler even mentions that he tried a number of times to have a dialogue with Haftar but to no avail.
Kobler notes the nomination of commanders of the Presidential Guard, but this is, as he says, just a first step in bringing security units under the authority of the PC. Militias are still regularly clashing, with the GNA seemingly powerless to do anything about it. He noted that forces from all areas of Libya needed to agree on a unified command with the PC as the Supreme Commander of the Libyan Army. How does he expect this to happen when he knows Kobler is adamantly opposed to the PC as the supreme commander?
I will deal with only the first two issues covered by Kobler. On the second issue, political developments, Kobler speaks of the momentum created when the HoR on August 22nd soundly defeated a motion of confidence in the GNA. Rather than being a disastrous defeat that in effect made the GNA illegitimate, Kobler sees it as an opportunity for the PC to seek again the endorsement of the HoR. It will be the third time. No mention that the deadline for submission of names for the new cabinet of 8 ministers rather than 14 is long passed, or that this will be third attempt at a vote of confidence. Kobler mentions the two-days of meetings in Tunis with dialogue members. He fails to mention that nothing seems to have been achieved. so little, that a final statement was not even made apparently. He says there is no alternative to the Libyan Political Agreement which he says remains the only way forward for the Libyan transition.
Kobler welcomed back the two boycotting members and urged the PC to come up with a revised list of government ministers. He urged that 30 percent of the ministers be women. He also urged that the HoR meet with all its members to discuss the Constitutional amendment and to vote confidence in the GNA. He suggested as well that there be Libyan and international observers of the process of voting. No deadline set. The PC is already divided and recent events will no doubt make the divisions worse. The PC has already had weeks to choose new ministers and has come up with nothing. It is unlikely that situation will change. All of Kobler's address is worth reading but this article is already long enough.

Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner investigating Twitter over data privacy concern.

Irish privacy regulators are launching an investigation into precisely how much data Twitter collects from, its URL-shortening system....