Are NATO Attacks In Libya All About The Oil?

In a view from the ground in Brega, signs of bombing campaigns carried out with oil production in mind. Gaddafi loyalists say NATO attacks kills civilians, spares the oil in a dirty war.

Jean-Philippe Rémy

BREGA, Libya - Invisible to the eye, an airplane buzzes through the sky above the oil complex at Brega. One, and then two deafening explosions resound.

It's not clear whether they are part of a new NATO strike nearby or shots fired by Libyan loyalists or rebels. Either way, a hint of anxiety is felt in front of the cracking towers of the small refinery situated in the Gulf of Syrte oil port, 800 kilometers from Tripoli.

For several days now, coalition air strikes have been targeting the Sirte Oil Company complex and its surroundings, just on the outer edges of the several-kilometer-long frontline of the Libyan conflict. But the interim director of the complex, Abderrahmane Mufta, insists the oil itself is safe. "We're safe right here," he tells a group of journalists visiting the plant under Libyan government supervision. "NATO will never destroy the oil installations."

Mufta's theory seemed to hold true during a June 24 strike that targeted what seemed to be buildings reserved for staff. While NATO bombers destroyed certain parts of the large industrial park – specifically living and eating quarters – they were careful to spare the oil tanks, the terminal, the beginning of the large Libyan pipeline, and the petrochemical complex, which has been shut down since the Norwegian expatriates who ran the facility fled the country.

Did another blunder just take place? Powerful bombs struck an employee dining facility, along with six worker residences. For the past three days those workers who are still left in the Brega complex have had nowhere to eat. Desolation reigns. Marouf Ahmed Embara, standing on the rubble of a destroyed house, mourns "a family of friends:" six people killed, he says, by a bomb. According to Libyan authorities, Friday's coalition attacks killed 15 in the complex.

The large dining facility was empty at the time of the air strike, which occurred at approximately 1 a.m. Next to it, a second building was even more radically destroyed. "Before the crisis, that was where we used to go to relax, or to connect to the Internet," says one employee.

Since the beginning of the conflict in February, the Libyan revolt has morphed into a civil war. In oil industry facilities like the Brega complex, the European expatriates have fled. Only the more low-level foreign employees, people from places like Bangladesh, have stuck around.

The fog of the frontline

The reduced teams are running the complex at 20% capacity, according to Abderrahmane Mufta. In Brega there are now approximately 1,000 workers, as opposed to 6,800 before the war. "Salaries are frozen, but we remain," says Jamal, an employee, in a quiet voice. "It needs to continue running, it is very important. Believe me! For pity's sake believe me: there are only employees here and no soldiers. We do not know where they are…"

In this part of the frontline, nothing is ever clear. There remains a container of arms in front of the entrance of the lodging for distinguished visitors, a camouflaged vehicle hiding in the garage of the complex's hospital, and a bulletproof vest abandoned next to the pipeline's compressor.

Nearby, the fighting rages on. In the past three months, the region has changed hands more than four times. Even the adjacent airport was the scene of clashes in March, and it was recently struck in May by NATO bombs so powerful that a piece of the cabin from a jet was launched onto the roof of a hangar.

The needs of the rebel forces of the National Transition Counsel are great. They have retreated back to Ajdabiya in order to re-launch an assault on Brega, even if only to deprive the loyalist forces of a precious source of fuel.

"It is the smallest refinery in Libya! It is a dirty war that NATO is waging, a war for oil," says Am'Ahmed Senussi, a young engineer who had to interrupt his doctoral studies at the University of Birmingham in Great Britain so he could fill in for the departed expatriates.

The refinery dates back to 1961. It only produces about 9,000 barrels per day (as opposed to 100,000 barrels before the war), but it nevertheless provides a vital source of fuel.

Besides its oil complex, Brega barely exists any more. The city has but one negligible intersection along the flat and dusty coastal route that crosses Libya. However, Muammar Gaddafi's camp has lost a majority of the petroleum zones and thus its refinery capacity, and so Brega is essential if they want to maintain the eastern front.

It is in this zone that NATO is multiplying its attacks in order to open the way for the rebels of the National Transition Counsel. Nearby, a large telecommunications antenna was destroyed by strikes on June 24.

The injured are sent to the hospital located within the oil complex, where one doctor confirms he received 32 people, of which 13 were serious cases, since June 24. To demonstrate the severity of the strikes, he shows the radio of one of the injured, which is now a hand-sized metallic chunk stuck in his skull.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Al Jazeera English

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!