“The US is the obstacle in Libya”

“The US is the obstacle in Libya”

Uluç Özülker is a retired ambassador and veteran diplomat. He served in Tripoli between 1993 and 1995 as Turkish ambassador and in the Turkish Foreign Ministry for 41 years. Özülker also had a personal relation with Muammar Gaddafi and had talks with him many times.

A ruthless dictator who did great things for his people

What is the general assessment of the situation in Libya? In 2024, how possible is establishing a unified government?

When I was in Libya, we got on very well with Muammar Gaddafi. I spoke with him numerous times. He was a person who did great things for his people and helped them, but at the same time, he was a ruthless dictator. People mentioning his name loudly in the streets could be taken into prison and never heard of again.

Libya as a desert country and the possibility of unification

So, knowing that he served his people, I asked why he was ruling too harshly. He couldn’t give a direct answer, but he roughly said: “Libya is a desert country. The coastal strip is quite fertile, ranging from about fifty to a hundred kilometers. In the desert, tribes are dominant and fully armed. Under these conditions, democracy or alike isn’t possible. There is a need for a central power with strong armed forces and intelligence service to control them.”

Libya has never been a united whole throughout its history. During the Ottoman Empire period, it was divided into two parts: Benghazi-Tobruk and Tripoli. There has also been a third region, Fizan. Fizan was used as an exile region during the Ottoman Empire period.

“I am a disciple of the Ottomans”

Let me tell you one of my memories: When I was there, the director general of protocol was a young black man with gorgeous dark blue eyes. When I went to talk to him, he kissed my hand and said, “Welcome, Mr. Ambassador.  I am a member of a family that has been going on since the Ottoman Empire. My ancestors were exiled. They married people from Libya. I am a disciple of the Ottomans, I am a part of them. Since you have come here as a Turk from a country that is the heir of the Ottoman Empire, our love and respect for you is great.”

The power was seized by a group of twenty-five officers led by Gaddafi. Some of these officers had received training in Türkiye, and Gaddafi was among them. Previously, when King Idris was ill, he was treated in Türkiye’s city of Bursa. Many Libyan leaders have shown great affection for Türkiye.

It is impossible to unite Libya, overcoming this tripartite division. The situation gets worse with external interventions. Sarkozy took money from Libya and when exposed, he wanted to get rid of Gaddafi. To achieve this goal, they launched an operation starting in Benghazi and ultimately resulting in Gaddafi’s death.

Two important points need to be emphasized here.

The story of Hafter

Firstly, Hafter was actually very close to Gaddafi, both as a soldier and friend. After the defeat in war against Chad, Hafter was held responsible and had to flee from the country. From then on, he came to be protected and used by the US. He went to the US. He and his family were allocated in a house near the CIA office. The US launched an operation called “El Dorado Canyon” and bombed Libya on 15 April 1986. One of Gaddafi’s children and several of his most trusted individuals were killed. Subsequently, the US tightened the embargo and Libya was isolated from the rest of the world. While I was there, Gaddafi made a special request from Türkiye’s then-Prime Minister Tansu Çiller to mend his relations with the US. However, the US’s response was always negative.

Secondly, the oil in Libya is the best in the world. This sector was totally owned by the Libyan state. There are many countries eyeing Libya’s oil reserves. As a result, they wanted to get rid of Gaddafi. The French Total Company in France was among those struggling to establish itself in Libya, as well as the Americans. Ultimately, Gaddafi was killed.

Türkiye’s support to the Tripoli government against Hafter

Hafter revolted against Gaddafi, backed by aircraft from Britain and France bombing Gaddafi. Hafter was largely supported by the Gulf countries, especially the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Eventually, Hafter almost came to be controlling the whole Libya. The territory governed by the Tripoli government was 6% of the total territory.

Here, Türkiye entered the stage. Türkiye’s help halted the advance of Hafter and the Tripoli government gained the control of half of the country. The US pursued the policy of weakening the Tripoli government.

So, the country was divided into two. Hafter is America’s man and operates with the support of the CIA. France is also involved in this process. Türkiye’s training and support to Tripoli have disturbed Hafter and the US. In the end, Hafter had to accept the division of Libya. The unification of Libya is still the goal, but for that to happen Hafter needs to change his stance.

Tripoli aims to remain the center of Libya after elections are held throughout the country, but the means and capabilities to achieve this have not yet been obtained. The United Nations is ineffective in this regard. Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, but the UN is doing nothing. The same applies to Libya: UN resolutions can’t be implemented.

“Libya is the victim of Neocon policies”

The US is the obstacle here. The US follows the philosophy of Neocon, which was born in 1935 at the New York City College. George W. Bush described this philosophy as follows: “The US has interests. Everyone should accept these. Otherwise, the US gets them accepted, and armed forces can be used when necessary.” Till the Ronald Reagan era, the US didn’t feel the need to use this philosophy in practice as it was already in control throughout the world both economically and militarily.

Libya, in a sense, is the victim of this Neocon policy. For years the Soviet Union was very powerful in Libya supporting Libya’s army. Then Gaddafi fell out with the Soviet Union and Libya gradually became the subject for the sphere of influence of great powers in the world.

More than 450 tribes in deserts

​​It is reported that the US, through the United Nations, is pressing for the establishment of a united government in Libya and is negotiating with local militias in this regard. It is also said that the US is negotiating to open a military base in Libya. To what extent do you think these are true?

There is no doubt that the US was keen to keep Libya under its control. There are more than 450 tribes in Libya living in deserts. They are not very friendly to each other. But in order to ensure the integrity of Libya, the parties within the country must first be reconciled. There is no power that can reconcile them. So, internal divisions and conflicts in Libya make it difficult for the US to achieve its desires. The US’s attempts to open a military base in Libya should also be evaluated accordingly.

But remember, there’s no incident where America intervened and left without a bloodbath. Look at Gaza, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria.

Italian occupation in Libya

What would you say about the positions of the US, France and Italy comparatively? Are they conflicting with each other or rather in accordance?

In 1911, the Italians gave an ultimatum to the Ottoman Empire. They thought like “everyone has a colony, why not us?” And the Italians occupied Libya and remained there until the Second World War. In 1936, they even attacked Ethiopia. At that time, the Ottomans had to hand Libya over to the Italians. Italy regarded Libya as a colony. Mussolini later took it to a much higher level.

Total company and Libya

At the beginning France wasn’t so involved in Libya, but especially with the establishment of Total company and thus intervening in a global oil policy, the French interest in Libya increased. The Total company began to invest in Libya, even Gaddafi provided ​​enfranchisement to the Company.

Italy and France collaborated in operations against Gaddafi. Yet there is a difference between the two countries. Sarkozy was convicted after leaving his presidency. There is a court decision that Gaddafi supported Sarkozy financially for elections. Sarkozy took a more active role than Italy in intervening in Libya to vindicate himself.

How does the US presence and stance in Libya affect Türkiye and Russia? Does the US inform the Turkish Armed Forces about its actions in the country? Are Türkiye and Russia in cooperation against the US?

We should know that the US could never have been in control in Libya like Russia before. Despite being very hostile generally, we see that they are careful not to enter each other’s “red zones”. For example, there are such cases in Syria.

Russia officially states that it is not involved in Libya, but we know that through Wagner, they support the Haftar forces. It is also certain that, despite that Hafter is CIA’s man, the US chose not to be directly involved in the conflict.

In today’s circumstances, I don’t think Russia and the US can reach an agreement in Libya. Yet both want to retain their influences.

Türkiye’s position

As for Türkiye, it is the country which ensures the Tripoli government gains half of the territory of the country. Türkiye is also important to ensure peace. Without Türkiye, Hafter would have gained total power. Türkiye’s military support, training and technological capabilities like UAVs shifted the balance of power. Additionally, Türkiye agreed with Libya in determining maritime borders in the Mediterranean and thus cornered Greece. I mentioned above the historical ties between the two countries. While supporting the Tripoli government, Türkiye would not harbor hostility towards Haftar and keep the position of encouraging integrity.

Şafak Erdem

Şafak Erdem was born in Istanbul in 1993. He completed primary and secondary school in Istanbul, then studied philosophy and sociology as an undergraduate at Boğaziçi University. He is currently doing a master's degree in philosophy.

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June 2024