Pacification of Libya
|Pacification of Libya|
|Part of Interwar Period|
Senussi rebel leader Omar Mukhtar (the man in robes with a chain on his left arm) after his arrest by Italian armed forces in 1931. Mukhtar was executed in a public hanging shortly afterward.
|Commanders and leaders|
| Rodolfo Graziani
|Casualties and losses|
|Over 80,000 Cyrenaicans killed|
The Pacification of Libya, also known as the Libyan Genocide or Second Italo-Senussi War, was a prolonged conflict in Italian Libya between Italian military forces and indigenous rebels associated with the Senussi Order that lasted from 1923 until 1932, when the principal Senussi leader, Omar Mukhtar, was captured and executed.
|Events leading to World War II|
The pacification resulted in mass deaths of the indigenous people in Cyrenaica - one quarter of Cyrenaica's population of 225,000 people died during the conflict. Italy committed major war crimes during the conflict; including the use of chemical weapons, episodes of refusing to take prisoners of war and instead executing surrendering combatants, and mass executions of civilians. Italian authorities committed ethnic cleansing by forcibly expelling 100,000 Bedouin Cyrenaicans, half the population of Cyrenaica, from their settlements that were slated to be given to Italian settlers.
In 2008, an agreement of compensation for damages caused by Italian colonial rule was signed between Italy and Libya. Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan ruler at the time, attended the signing ceremony of the document wearing a historical photograph on his uniform that shows Cyrenaican rebel leader Omar Mukhtar in chains after being captured by Italian authorities during the Pacification. At the signing ceremony of the document, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared: "In this historic document, Italy apologizes for its killing, destruction and repression of the Libyan people during the period of colonial rule." and went on to say that this was a "complete and moral acknowledgement of the damage inflicted on Libya by Italy during the colonial era."
After Italy had conquered Libya from the Ottoman Empire during the Italo-Turkish War in 1912, the new colony shortly broke out into revolt, with Italian authorities losing control over large regions of the colony. Italy had been in near-constant conflict with the Senussis since Italy seized control of Libya from the Ottoman Empire. Conflict between Italy and the Senussis erupted into major violence during World War I when the Senussis in Libya collaborated with the Ottoman Empire against Italy and raided into Egypt to attack British forces, to assist Turkish forces attacking the British from the Levant. Warfare between the British and the Senussis continued until 1917 when the Senussis made peace with the British.
In 1917, Italy signed the Treaty of Acroma that acknowledged effective virtual independence of Libya from direct Italian control. In 1918, Tripolitanian rebels founded the Tripolitanian Republic.
In 1920, the Italian government attempted to reach a settlement with the Senussi in Cyrenaica and recognized Senussi leader Sayid Idris as Emir of Cyrenaica and granted Cyrenaica autonomy under Italian rule. In 1922 Tripolitanian leaders offered Idris the position of Emir of Tripolitania. However before Idris was able to accept the position, the Italian government decided to initiate a campaign of reconquest of Libya.
From 1923 to 1924, Italian military forces regained all territory north of the Ghadames-Mizda-Beni Ulid region, with four fifths of the estimated population of Tripolitania and Fezzan within the Italian area; and Italian forces had regained the northern lowlands of Cyrenaica in during these two years. However attempts by Italian forces to occupy the forest hills of Jebel Akhtar were met with popular guerrilla resistance. This resistance was led by Senussi sheikh Omar Mukhtar.
The Pacification began with Italian forces rapidly occupying the Sirte desert separating Tripolitania from Cyrenaica, using aircraft, motor transport, and good logistical organization that allowed the Italians to occupy 150,000 square kilometres of territory in five months. By doing this, the Italians cut off the physical connection formerly held by the rebels between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. By late 1928, the Italians took control of Ghibla and its tribes were disarmed.
Attempted negotiations between Italy and Omar Mukhtar broke down and Italy then planned for the complete conquest of Libya. In 1930, Italian forces conquered Fezzan and raised the Italian flag in Tummo, the southernmost region of Fezzan.
12,000 Cyrenaicans were executed in 1931 and all the nomadic peoples of northern Cyrenaica were forcefully removed from the region and relocated to huge concentration camps in the Cyrenaican lowlands. Italian military authorities carried out the forced migration and deportation of the entire population of Jebel Akhdar in Cyrenaica, resulting in 100,000 Bedouins, half the population of Cyrenaica, being expelled from their settlements. These 100,000 people who were mostly women, children, and the elderly, were forced by Italian authorities to march across the desert to a series of barbed-wire concentration camp compounds erected near Benghazi, any stragglers who could not keep up with the march were summarily shot by Italian authorities. Propaganda by the Fascist regime declared the camps to be oases of modern civilization that were hygienic and efficiently run - however in reality the camps had poor sanitary conditions as the camps had an average of about 20,000 Beduoins together with their camels and other animals, crowded into an area of one square kilometre. The camps held only rudimentary medical services, with the camps of Soluch and Sisi Ahmed el Magrun with 33,000 internees each having only one doctor between them. Typhus and other diseases spread rapidly in the camps as the people were physically weakened by meagre food rations provided to them and forced labour. By the time the camps closed in September 1933, 40,000 of the 100,000 total internees had died in the camps.
To close rebel supply routes from Egypt, the Italians constructed a 300-kilometre barbed wire fence on the border with Egypt that was patrolled by armoured cars and aircraft. The Italians persecuted the Senussi Order; zawias and mosques were closed, Senussi practices were forbidden, Senussi estates were confiscated, and preparations were made for Italian conquest of the Kufra Oasis, the last stronghold of the Senussi in Libya. In 1931, Italian forces seized Kufra where Senussi refugees were bombed and strafed by Italian aircraft as they fled into the desert. Mukhtar was captured by the Italians in 1931, followed by a court martial and his public execution by hanging at Suluq.
Mukhtar's death effectively ended the resistance, and in January 1932, Badoglio proclaimed the end of the Pacification of Libya.
"How did Kufra fall?"
With a weary gesture, Sidi Umar motioned to one of his men to come closer: "Let this man tell thee the story...He is one of the few who have escaped from Kufra. He came to me only yesterday." The man from Kufra sat down on his haunches before me and pulled his ragged burnus around him. He spoke slowly, without any tremor of emotion in his voice; but his gaunt face seemed to mirror all the horrors he had witnessed."They came upon us in three columns, from three sides, with many armoured cars and heavy cannon. Their aeroplanes came down low and bombed houses and mosques and palm groves. We had only a few hundred men able to carry arms; the rest were women and children and old men. We defended house after house, but they were too strong for us, and in the end only the village of Al-Hawari was left to us. Our rifes were useless against their armoured cars; and they overwhelmed us. Only a few of us escaped. I hid myself in the palm orchards waiting for a chance to make my way through the Italian lines; and all through the night I could hear the screams of the women as they were being raped by the Italian soldiers and Eritrean askaris. On the following day an old woman came to my hiding place and brought me water and bread. She told me that the Italian general had assembled all the surviving people before the tomb of Sayyid Muhammad al-Mahdi; and before their eyes he tore a copy of the Koran into pieces, threw it to the ground and set his boot upon it, shouting, "Let your beduin prophet help you now, if he can!" And then he ordered the palm trees of the oasis to be cut down and the wells destroyed and all the books of Sayyid Ahmad's library burned. And on the next day he commanded that some of our elders and ulama [scholars] be taken up in an aeroplane - and they were hurled out of the plane high above the ground to be smashed to death...And all through the second night I heard from my hiding place the cries of our women and the laughter of the soldiers, and their rifle shots...At last I crept out into the desert in the dark of night and found a stray camel and rode away..."— Muhammad Asad, The Road to Mecca
Specific war crimes alleged to have been committed by the Italian armed forces against civilians include deliberate bombing of civilians, killing unarmed children, women, and the elderly, rape and disembowelment of women, throwing prisoners out of aircraft to their death and running over others with tanks, regular daily executions of civilians in some areas, and bombing tribal villages with mustard gas bombs beginning in 1930.
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- Detailed description of some fights (in Italian)
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- Wright 1983, p. 33
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- Duggan 2007, p. 496
- David Miller, Chris Foss. Great Book of Tanks: The World's Most Important Tanks from World War I to the Present Day. Zenith Imprint, 2003. p. 83.
- Wright 1983, pp. 35–36
- Geoff Simons, Tam Dalyell (British Member of Parliament, forward introduction). Libya: the struggle for survival. St. Martin's Press, 1996. 1996 Pp. 129.