How Libya Became the Ultimate Proxy Conflict


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Once again, a U.S.-backed toppling of a longstanding dictator has led to a power vacuum and widespread violence that's been exploited by a revolving door of militant groups.

The scenario that unfolded in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion is replaying in Libya, where warring factions are battling for control of the capital, Tripoli.

The conflict has killed more than 2,000 people, forced tens of thousands to flee and opened up the oil-rich country to traffickers of African migrants to Europe. It's been a mess since NATO helped oust dictator Moammar Qaddafi in 2011.

The latest attempt to secure a negotiated end to the war - by Russia and Turkey, which back opposing sides - failed when military commander Khalifa Haftar left Moscow yesterday without signing a deal.

It comes at a delicate moment for mainly Muslim areas of north and west Africa. Fighters allied to Islamic State and al-Qaeda are moving through Libya to carry out attacks in a wide area.

French and UN forces have been unable to stem the tide. With anti-French sentiment growing, President Emmanuel Macron yesterday coaxed West African leaders into publicly backing his nation's intervention.

But as long as the fighting in Libya continues, militants there can use it as a staging post to spread violence across ever greater swathes of Africa.

Global Headlines

Iowa debate | The stage will be smaller, the spotlight brighter and the stakes higher for the seventh Democratic presidential debate tonight in Des Moines - the last before the Iowa caucuses next month. Six candidates - Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Tom Steyer and Amy Klobuchar - will gather for a televised event that comes amid growing rifts between and within the party's moderate and progressive flanks.

Cory Booker announced yesterday he was ending his campaign, vowing in a text message to supporters to "never abandon my faith in what we can accomplish when we join together."

Making nice | Donald Trump's administration has lifted its designation of China as a currency cheat, saying the nation has made "enforceable commitments" not to devalue the yuan and has agreed to publish exchange-rate information. It follows a bruising three years of tit-for-tat tariffs and comes as the U.S. and China are set to sign a phase-one trade agreement tomorrow that's expected to include a commitment from Beijing to respect American intellectual property.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is exuding confidence on the eve of the trade deal signing.

Trial prep | With his impeachment trial expected to begin next week, Trump has yet to settle on either his defense strategy or the team that will represent him in the Senate. The president has sent conflicting signals about key aspects of the trial, including how long it should last and whether witnesses should testify, Jordan Fabian and Josh Wingrove report. The House is likely to vote tomorrow on impeachment managers named by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Huawei decision | Prime Minister Boris Johnson hinted his government will let Chinese tech giant Huawei supply some equipment for the U.K.'s 5G broadband networks, even in the face of strong pressure for a ban from the U.S. While Washington says intelligence-sharing could be at risk, British officials argue there's nothing the U.S. knows about the company that Britain does not. Despite Trump's backlisting, Huawei broke into the top 10 recipients of U.S. patents last year, helping propel China to the fourth spot.

Rivals circling | Angela Merkel is batting away the next generation of German conservatives as they vie for the spotlight toward the end of her long chancellorship. But despite speculation she might be forced out early - this time by Markus Soeder, the head of her Bavarian sister party - Merkel is holding firm, and recent polls suggest she's still the most popular politician after 14 years in power, Patrick Donahue and Arne Delfs report.

What to Watch

Iran has arrested a number of people allegedly linked to the Jan. 8 downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet, and the country's president called on the judiciary to form a special court and fully investigate the disaster. Johnson faces his first battle of Brexit's next stage, after the European Commission warned that a trade deal this year must include a fisheries accord. The European Union's new trade chief, Phil Hogan, will be in Washington for the next three days and is due to meet U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and other officials amid frayed ties.

Tell us how we're doing or what we're missing at

And finally ... The former chairman of one of China's bad banks has confessed to taking millions of yuan in bribes which he kept in metal cabinets in a Beijing apartment he nicknamed "the supermarket." Such revelations are becoming more commonplace as President Xi tightens his grip on power, broadening his seven-year corruption crackdown into the nation's boardrooms.

--With assistance from Rosalind Mathieson and Samer Al-Atrush.

To contact the author of this story: Karl Maier in Rome at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at, Kathleen Hunter

For more articles like this, please visit us at

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


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