Flames rise during fighting between Islamist militias and forces loyal to general Haftar, in Benghazi, on June 2
By ANDREW MALONE:
Death is stalking Sammy. In a flat in a rough part of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, this cadaverous 32-year-old sits on his sofa bed and transfers cocaine from a bag onto a spoon.
With Tom and Jerry on the television opposite, Sammy pours liquid onto the white powder and holds a lighter underneath the spoon until the cocaine starts to bubble, dry out and crack. He places the rocks of crack cocaine he’s made in a pipe, lights them and inhales.
The drugs are free. As a policeman, who joined the new security services in the heady days after Muammar Gaddafi was driven from power by a popular uprising, Sammy, wearing the balaclava that protects officers from reprisals, targets drug dealers and confiscates their contraband at gunpoint.
He’s been using crack for five months. In the past three days, he’s drunk a bottle of vodka and one of whisky. The drugs help him drink more.
This skeletal, depressive figure is not the Sammy I have known for the past three years — not the warm, friendly, family man who, along with thousands of others, risked his life to end the madness of Gaddafi’s 42-year-rule.
After the despot was captured and killed in October 2011, he joined the new police force and pledged to uphold the law. He married, had a baby girl and bought a family home.
But now, like the entire country, Sammy is falling apart. Haunted by memories of war, and traumatised by attacks on the police by armed gangs, he has long endured nightmares that stop him sleeping.
His drunken rages are now so bad that his neighbours have become used to him firing his Kalashnikov in the middle of the night.
Above all, he is in despair over his country. ‘We got rid of Gaddafi — and it’s just exactly the same s***,’ he says. ‘What was it for? It was for nothing — things are worse now than they have ever been. I see it every day. It was all for nothing — absolutely nothing.’
Nor does he think much of David Cameron, who said earlier this year he was ‘proud’ of his work in Libya, having supplied British jets and warships to oust Gaddafi in what locals deride as a ‘drive-by war’ with no thought for the aftermath.
‘They all fly in and come here in armed convoys, say everything is great, then leave again,’ says Sammy, who casually passes me a grenade and asks how much I would pay for it.
‘We thought the war was about freedom, but not this kind of freedom. Now you can do anything you like — buy guns, people and drugs. The country is in a mess.’
The truth is, there are thousands of Sammys in the new, free Libya. The country is awash with drugs, weapons, warring gangs and Al Qaeda terrorists.
And once more Libyans fear their nation is sliding inexorably into civil war. The parlous state of this benighted nation should act as a terrible warning to those watching with dismay as Iraq — another country where Britain chose to topple a long-standing strongman leader — threatens to tear itself apart along sectarian lines.
A retired Libyan general has launched a campaign against the Islamists that control areas of Tripoli, and against the government — or what passes for it, which is, in reality, a weak and makeshift administration, riven by divisions between hardline Islamists and moderates.
General Khalifa Haftar, who a few days ago survived a suicide bomb attack that killed four other people, has attempted to seize the parliament building and launched an attack with rocket-propelled grenades against the house of disputed Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq, whom he has accused of being in thrall to Islamic groups.
He is calling his campaign ‘Operation Dignity’.
It is a name that might bring a tired smile to the lips of ordinary Libyans. Dignity is in short supply here. Weapons, unfortunately, are not.
There are thousands of truck-mounted missile launchers for sale, as well as rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns.
There are an estimated 15 million Kalashnikovs in a country of just six million people. Guns are available everywhere — from dealers outside the fish market, to a kiosk selling cigarettes on the street near Sammy’s flat, where arms and other contraband goods are kept in cupboards below the counter.
Moody, the kiosk owner, is also a former rebel fighter and was part of the uprising that ended with Gaddafi being buried in a secret grave in the Sahara.
He proudly showed me six Kalashnikov assault rifles, as well as boxes of ammunition.
Murder is also on sale.
Asked how much it would be to have a rival killed, Moody drew on his cigarette. ‘Not much. About 1,000 Libyan dinar (£600),’ he said, as other customers nodded in agreement.
‘We are turning into Somalia,’ said Abdelsalaam, a customer, as he negotiated to buy high-calibre bullets for a sniper rifle. ‘I’ve got a gun to stop myself being killed.’
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