Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

The Good Intentions Paving Company

Posted by Charles II on March 25, 2011

So, Robert Parry has unearthed a West Point report that will gladden the hearts of those who oppose the support of the Libyan resistance and dismay those of us who believe that the US should support the uprising, even if we disagree with the details of how it is being done. Written by Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman, it has to do with records, called the Sinjar Records, released by the USG to West Point regarding 606 foreign nationals acting as combatants in Iraq.

Are these accurate or representative? We don’t know. The estimates of the distribution of nationalities are at serious odds with other reports. Interpreting the data is also not straightforward. Is someone a “foreign fighter” if their family has roots in that country, even if they reside in another? The Middle East was partitioned by outsiders, and people have moved around. Certainly these 606 men were not a major factor in the fighting. And, since over 80% of the Libyans listed as their occupation, “suicide bombers,” it’s unclear how many were available for subsequent engagements. But here’s what Felter and Fishman say:

Saudi Arabia was by far the most common nationality of the fighters’ in this sample; 41% (244) of the 595 records that included the fighter’s nationality indicated they were of Saudi Arabian origin. Libya was the next most common country of origin, with 18.8% (112) of the fighters listing their nationality stating they hailed from Libya. Syria, Yemen, Algeria were were the next most common origin countries with 8.2% (49), 8.1% (48), and 7.2% (43), respectively. Moroccans accounted for 6.1% (36) of the records and Jordanians 1.9% (11).

Now, Libya (and Morocco and Algeria) is a long way away from Iraq. Egypt, the largest country in the region, contributed the fewest fighters. So 112 fighters from Libya is a significant number. Felter and Fishman ask whether the Libyans were affiliated with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’s (LIFG). “The vast majority of Libyan fighters that included their hometown in the Sinjar Records resided in the country’s Northeast, particularly the coastal cities of Darnah 60.2% (53) and Benghazi 23.9% (21)…Both Darnah and Benghazi have long been associated with Islamic militancy in Libya, in particular for an uprising by Islamist organizations in the mid‐1990s.” they say.

Anyway, Parry asks some good questions:

Now, the neocons are baiting Obama into a wider war to overthrow Gaddafi. But they appear as ill-informed about the possible consequences in Libya as they did in Iraq:

If the “rebels” are influenced or controlled by al-Qaeda-style terrorists, would they inflict massacres of Gaddafi’s supporters, thus flipping the notion of a humanitarian intervention?

Would a rebel victory give the Islamic terror groups of eastern Libya a foothold in or possible control of the whole country and its oil wealth?

Would the prospect of an al-Qaeda affiliate in charge of a strategically placed Arab country require the United States to commit ground troops to the conflict to prevent an outcome that the U.S. intervention had unintentionally caused?

I don’t think we can extrapolate from 112 Libyan suicide bombers to anything. But we really ought to be asking these questions. Just because Gaddafi says that people are Al Qaida doesn’t mean we should automatically discount the possibility that they might be.

2 Responses to “The Good Intentions Paving Company”

  1. Can’t vouch for the leaders, but most of the people doing the fighting seem to be plain old average schmoes who’ve never before held a weapon of any sort, much less been outside of Libya, even much less been fighting against US troops in Iraq as has been claimed. It’s why Gaddafi’s forces — who do know how to use weapons like tanks and planes, and whose ranks are salted with mercenaries (on the idea that it’ll be easier for someone from Chad to shoot a Benghazi resident than it would be for a Tripolitanian) — were able to strike back after the rebels had taken nearly the entire countryside outside of Tripoli.

    As for who’s behind it: Britain and France appear to be the main drivers, and their key motivations seem to be a desire to get on the right side of the Muslim world (“see, we’re intervening for a good reason this time, just like in Bosnia and Kosovo”) and a desire to keep thousands of Libyan refugees from flooding into Europe at a time when anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise. Obama wanted to stay out of it for the most part; he’d been trying to get the Saudis to send arms to the rebels, but the House of Saud have so far refused, even though Gaddafi’s tried to kill King Abdullah, as they want the Arab Spring to die out before it can topple them.

    • Charles II said

      My impression is that the US wanted to stay out of it because US oil companies had cut deals with Gaddafi. With a new sheriff in town, they’d have to renegotiate.

      France has a long interest in North Africa, which you’ll remember from The Battle of Algiers. Despite the gruesome history behind that, France has remained engaged in the region, and established ties to Libya (a former Italian colony) following the 1967 war. French Total also operates in Libya, and Libya supplies a substantial fraction of European oil.

      As for the uprising, it’s clearly more than Islamic nationalists. It has brought in a broad spectrum of people from society. What Parry is saying–and this same argument was raised in Egypt, where it was clearly wrong–is that the Islamicists are experienced in politics and warfare, while the newbies aren’t. So, the end game may be more complicated than your run-of-the-mill revolution.

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