Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Libya: Gaddafi strikes back!

   While the West adjusts its knickers and tries to figure out how best to play its hand, Muammar Gaddafi has staged a successful attack on the city of Zawiyah 30 miles east of Tripoli with up to 50 tanks and a shitload of Toyota Tundra pick up trucks from the 'elite' Khamis brigade led by his son. Zawiyah, a city of about 200,000 and right in Gaddafi's back yard, was a thorn in his side and it's pretty logical that he would aim to 'cleanse' that first. The shelling has been pretty indiscriminate (as shelling always is) and it seems his forces have taken out power to the town. Cellular and land line phone communications have been cut which I'm sure is making the rebels jittery. There are reports of them using bullhorns to try to rally men to the main square where they seem to have some makeshift HQ. The town has been surrounded and cordoned off by loyalist forces and anyone attempting to escape is getting sniped on the highway. 

   If and when Zawiyeh falls things are going to get interesting because the country will fall into an almost perfect east-west divide. With NATO offshore fanning their pussies and still wondering if the imposition of a 'no fly zone' will harm or help the rebels, Gaddafi's forces seem to be strengthening. The 5000 troops he's paying to stay loyal seem to have been bolstered by a few hundred Tuareg warriors from Mali and Niger. These 'blue warriors' are Saharan tribesmen Gaddafi helped out when they rebelled in '07 in Mali and now seem to be repaying the favor at the price of a mere grand a day per warrior.

   Don't you love this shit?

   In the east, Gaddafi's air force has been messing with the oil refinery in Ras Lanuf and dropping the odd bomb to mess with the rebel's heads. It also makes sure no more oil tankers make off with any more loads like the two that managed it last week. Gaddafi's forces also repelled a balls to the wall rebel attack on Sunday when a bunch of fools in pick up trucks attempted to advance on Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte only to get pawned by arty and heavy weapons. They returned to base with heavy casualties and Gadaffi loyalists were seen celebrating in Tripoli on news of the victory. The momentum shift now is interesting as suddenly both sides believe they can win.

Enemy jets! They suck! Also note the guy's initials on his AK. He doesn't want his shit stolen while he sleeps!

   Without some NATO weaponry or fire support it's difficult to see how the rebels in pick ups can bring it to Gaddafi. And with Gaddafi seemingly gaining the initiative, a push to the east with armor toward Benghazi seems inevitable if Ras Lanuf falls. There are reports that the rebels in Ras Lanuf are running low on fuel and ammo, not suprising when you consider every time a jet swoops overhead everyone and their mother opens up with their AK. Let's face it these guys are not professional soldiers by any means just a motley bunch of guys who've been cut out of Libya's economic pie all their lives. Born into the wrong tribe or social group this is their chance for a better shot. Problem is, heart and enthusiasm can only get you so far in war. And with no heavy weapons and under arty and rocket fire guys like that tend to buckle when enough of them end up on stretchers in the hospital ward that has no electricity or doctors. They've got no command structure. Or discipline. There are reports of disparate groups of them arriving in pick ups in Ras Lanuf, driving west to wherever they believe the 'front is', firing a few shots in the general direction of Gadaffi's forces and going for a cigarette break.  If Gaddafi can capture Ras Lanuf you could see the rebel forces crumbling and making a break for the Egyptian border with all the mess that would entail, last and not least of which would be Libya's oil off the world market for the next ten years with Gadaffi back in charge and the 'terrorist state' the West always claims it is so terrified of becoming a reality in the heart of North Africa.

   Of course, if NATO does intervene, and with Gadaffi's gains it needs to make up its collective mind, that'll have wider implications all across the Arab world. There will be clamoring voices in next door Egypt saying it is an imperialist oil grab which will push that new 'democracy' into the hands of hardliners and risks handing the country over to the Muslim Brotherhood. Having them in control of Suez is a nightmare for the US Navy who needs that waterway as part of its Persian Gulf strategy. Interestingly, the crushing of the rebellion in Libya would be seen in Saudi Arabia as a bonus and might put a dampener on Friday's upcoming "Day of Rage". When one side has all the heavy weapons, maybe Facebook and Twitter aren't enough to win a war after all. 

   Interestingly, there were reports yesterday of Gaddafi floating an exit strategy for him and his money. Although later denied (you always deny it until you're safely aboard the plane to your beach front condo), it seems Gadaffi would bail if he and his family could get immunity with no pesky war crime trials and get to keep their money. That hole is pretty deep now and it's hard to see the West being cool with this especially since all those shiny oil investments are now dust.

   Probably the best bet right now for the West is to slip in some covert 'military advisors' Vietnam style and train some rebels to use the Javelin Anti Armor system and FIM-92 Stingers to take down Gadaffi's aircraft. But even then, it's hard seeing that motley bunch having the command structure to put them to good use. Sure any move by NATO like this would be obvious but certainly a quieter move than imposing a no-fly zone that'll have the rest of the Arab world screaming oil grab or Zionist plot.

   The thing is, with Gadaffi gaining the initiative, the West will have to make up its mind very soon if it wants to act, because if the rebels start losing ground a "no fly zone" is not gonna cut it (Gadaffi's airforce not being the rebels main problem anyway and NATO will be forced to take out Gadaffi's arty and armor just so the rebels can hold real estate.

   And that is not going to viewed favorably in the wider Arab world.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ivory Coast 2: Trickle down economics West African style.

   I thought I'd take a quick break from the North African situation and comment on a post I wrote a while back on the situation in Ivory Coast. The whole impending civil war thing was not happening quick enough for some readers and I was getting emails saying everything was cool and Fonzy and nothing bad is going to happen. Well this is not so. Stay tuned because the price of your Hershey bar is about to increase (Ivory Coast being the worlds leading cocoa producer) and there are a number of signs that this war is about to go live although how exactly is still anybody's guess.

   If you've read my previous post on the situation or happen to be one of the few that gives a shit what goes down in West Africa, you'll know the winner of November's election according to the UN, the IMF and most foreign governments was Alassane Ouattara. He and his cabinet have been holed up for the last few months in the "Golf Hotel" just outside the commercial capital, Abidjan, protected by a bunch of UN troops from the current slimey President/General Laurent Gbagbo and his army who have refused to accept the result of the election for the obvious reason that Gbagbo seems to have lost. Of course, losing to a guy like Ouattera who was also a bankster who acted as Deputy Managing Director at the IMF from '94-'99 presents an easy conspiracy theory to feed to your loyal troops. And those loyalists include most of Ivory Coast's army who Gbagbo is feeding a healthy share of the country's profits to, Caesar conquest of Gaul style. 

   The international power elites are pissed because the only real 'successful' West African country (success equalling exploitable profit) is undergoing a bout of instability because of a power hungry general Gbagbo. They see Ouattara as the man easier to do business with. The fact that he's holed up at the "Golf Hotel" smacks of irony. I mean, how many golf courses are there in West Africa anyway? Golf is the sport of rich corporate fucks and it just so happens that their guy ends up at the only resort in West Africa where you can take a swing at your handicap. Sure, Gbagbo himself is pure sleaze so there is no good guy in this situation, just an easier guy for foreign interests to buy more chocolate and bananas from.

   So what are the latest developments?

   Ouattara and his 'cabinet-in-waiting' are still holed up at the luxury Golf Hotel presumably sipping cocktails at the 'nineteenth hole' and still under the protection of about 9000 UN troops. In the meantime, Gbagbo has been looting their homes with his 'elite paramilitary police force' (Cecos) with reports of cop trucks leaving the homes of prominent cabinet members with fridges and big screen TVs. Gbagbo also seems to have given free reign to groups of unruly teenagers who have been seen leaving the same homes with slimmer pickings like bags of rice and canisters of cooking gas;  that's trickle down economics West African style... you get to loot the cheap shit when you're poor.

   Meanwhile, 200,000 people have already bailed from the country on the threat of violence, 70,000 of those to the neighboring shithole of Liberia next door. It's pretty sad when people from the most successful country in West Africa need to escape to the beach shitters in Liberia. But with the tribal insignias being painted on doors and gates (so you don't get massacred by the wrong death squad) you know word on the ground is that this shit still has the potential to get ugly. Maybe not quite Rwanda ugly, but up there in terms of machete slashing.

   One of the more ugly incidents in recent weeks was the shooting dead of six women protesters by Gbagbo's troops. The women's demonstration became a scene of terror when security forces rolled up and opened fire with machine guns in Abobo, a sprawling, impoverished suburb of Abidjan. That was pretty shocking up until last week when Gadaffi went and jumped the shark in African terms and ordered his air force to bomb protesters in Benghazi.

   Who knew 2011 would offer up so much war and it's still only March?

   The whole regional civil war thing seems to be getting well and truly out of hand for those that care in Western capitals. And yet it is still only happening in countries nobody gives a shit about or those that don't have an impact on the world economy. The only real fear now is contagion to Saudi Arabia and commodity price. We in the West can live with a few cents increase in Hershey Bars and Iran floating destroyers through Suez but oil cresting the hundred dollar a barrel mark and beyond is something that makes Washington and Brussels shit brix.

Massacred women: An outrageous image if it'd happened outside West Africa

   Probably my favourite scenario for Ivory Coast is if the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decide to get involved. They have no love for Gbagbo and the idea that they could invade would be a fun move for pan African independence (Ouattera was ECOWAS first president from 1977-85). Restoring order 'in house' and not forcing Western nations to get involved in the bongo party would truly be seen as some kind of maturity by the Western economic hitmen. It's not something ECOWAS couldn't do in house (well equipped as they are with Soviet and NATO armor) versus Gbagbo's AK and RPG wielding Ivorian Army (vehicle deficient) but such action could precipitate all kinds of nasty tribe on tribe genocide as the cornered Gbagbo forces go down fighting and whipping up genocide for shits and giggles.

   It seems right now that all sides in Ivory Coast would prefer to hold out for some future 'peaceful' resolution then have ECOWAS invade and force the issue. The UN seem content to protect Ouattara in the Golf Hotel for the time being in lieu of knowing what the fuck else to do. Gbagbo, for his part, seems content looting TVs and refrigerators and relocating them to the homes of his senior officers. There is a lot of hate brewing under the surface, much of it running on old colonial lines between the southern coastal elites who did business with the French (Gbagbo's men) and the impoverished north plantation workers and their disenfranchised immigrant kin who voted for Ouaterra and would love a share of the country's profits. For those of us amazed by the swiftness of 2011's developments but impatient for a grab the popcorn war, right now I think it's best we stock up and watch North Africa and the possible contagion to the grand oil producer.

   The only thing for sure right now in Ivory Coast is that it's not going away.

   But at the end of the day, let's face it, chocolate is not as tasty as oil.