Pacification of Libya

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Pacification of Libya
Omar Mokhtar arrested by Italian Officials.jpg
Cyrenaican 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.
Date 1928 – 1932
Location Libya
Result Italian military victory and stabilization of Italian rule in Libya. Defeat of the Cyrenaican and Tripolitanian rebels.[1] Mass deaths of Cyrenaican indigenous civilians.[2] Execution of Senussi Cyrenaican rebel leader Omar Mukhtar.
Kingdom of Italy Italy Cyrenaican rebels
Tripolitanian rebels
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Italy Rodolfo Graziani
Kingdom of Italy Pietro Badoglio
Omar Mukhtar
Casualties and losses
Over 1,000 Italians killed Over 80,000 Cyrenaicans killed[3]

The Pacification of Libya is the name given to a period of conflict within the colony of Italian Libya between Italian military forces and Libyan rebels that began in 1928 with an escalation of Italian military actions against rebel forces and ended in 1932 following the destruction of the revolt and the capture and execution of the principal rebel leader Omar Mukhtar.[4]


After Italy had conquered Libya from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, the new colony shortly broke out into revolt, with Italian authorities losing control over large regions of the colony.[5]

From the first weeks many cruelties were done by local moslems to the Italian soldiers and civilians during this revolt, as happened in Sciara Sciat:[6]

I saw (in Sciara Sciat) in one mosque seventeen Italian crucifixed with their bodies reduced to the status of bloody rags and bones, but whose faces still retain traces of hellish agony. It has passed through the neck of these wretched a long barrel and arms resting on this rod. They were then nailed to the wall and died for a slow fire between untold suffering. It is impossible for us to paint the picture of these hideous rotted meat hanging pitifully on the bloody wall. In a corner another body is crucified, but as an officer he was to have refined his sufferings. The eyes are stitched. All the bodies were mutilated and castrated; so indescribable was the scene and the bodies appeared swollen as shapeless carrion. But that's not all! In the cemetery of Chui which served as a refuge from the Turks and whence pulled from afar we could see another show. Under the same door in front of the Italian trenches five soldiers had been buried up to their shoulders, their heads emerged from the black sand stained of their blood: heads horrible to see, and there you could read all the tortures of hunger and thirst (Gaston Leroud and the correspondent of Matin-Journal[7])

The consequences of these massacres were the retaliation and revenge of fascism. Indeed the rise to power of Benito Mussolini as Prime Minister of Italy and his National Fascist Party resulted in a change in foreign policy due to the importance that Fascists attached to Libya as part of the Italian Empire, that resulted in the Pacification of Libya.[8]

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.[8] However attempts by Italian forces to occupy the forest hills of Jebel Akhtar were met with popular guerilla resistance. This resistance was led by Senussi sheikh Omar Mukhtar.[8]

The Pacification[edit]

The Pacification began in 1928 with Italian forces rapidly occupied the Sirte desert separating Tripolitania from Cyrenaica, utilizing aircraft, motor transport, and good logistical organization that allowed the Italians to occupy 150,000 square kilometres of territory in five months.[9] By doing this, the Italians cut off the physical connection formerly held by the rebels between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania.[9] By late 1928, the Italians took control of Ghibla and its tribes were disarmed.[9]

Attempted negotiations between Italy and Omar Mukhtar broke down during the summer of 1929 and Italy then planned for the complete conquest of Libya from the rebels.[10] In 1930, Italian forces conquered Fezzan and rose the Italian flag in Tummo, the southernmost region of Fezzan.[9]

From 1930 to 1931, Italian forces unleashed a wave of terror against the Cyrenaican indigenous people. 12,000 Cyrenaicans were executed from 1930 to 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.[10] In June 1930, 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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[12] 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.[12] By the time the camps closed in September 1933, 40,000 of the 100,000 total internees had died in the camps.[12]

The Fiat 3000 light tank used by Italian forces during the campaign.[13]

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.[10] The Italians persecuted the Senussi Order: zawias were closed; mosques were closed and 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.[10] In January 1931, Italian forces seized Kufra where Senussi refugees were bombed and strafed by Italian aircraft as they fled into the desert.[10] Mukhtar was captured by the Italians in 1931 followed by a court martial and his public execution by hanging at Suluq.[10]

Mukhtar's death effectively ended the resistance, and in January 1932, Badoglio proclaimed the end of the Pacification of Libya.[14] By 1934, Libya was fully pacified and the new Italian governor Italo Balbo started a policy of integration between the Arabs and the Italians. Indeed in 1939, laws were passed that allowed Muslims to be permitted to join the National Fascist Party and in particular the "Muslim Association of the Lictor" (Associazione Musulmana del Littorio), and the 1939 reforms allowed the creation of Libyan military units within the Italian army.[15] As a consequence during WWII there was a strong support for Italy between many Muslim Libyans, 30,000 of whom enrolled in the Italian Army [16]

War crimes[edit]

In the 1960s Gaddafi stated that specific war crimes have been committed by the Italian armed forces against civilians, that 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.[17] Of course, Italian authorities denied all these facts.

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".[18]


  1. ^ Cardoza, Anthony L. (2006). Benito Mussolini: the first fascist. Pearson Longman. p. 109. 
  2. ^ Duggan, Christopher (2007). The Force of Destiny: A History of Italy Since 1796. New York: Houghton Mifflin. p. 497. 
  3. ^ Mann, Michael (2006). The dark side of democracy: explaining ethnic cleansing (2nd ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 309. 
  4. ^ The pacification resulted -according to Libyan authorities- in mass deaths of the indigenous people in Cyrenaica - one fifth of Cyrenaica's population of 225,000 people died during the conflict.They said that Italy committed major war crimes during the conflict; including the use of illegal chemical weapons, episodes of refusing to take prisoners of war and instead executing surrendering combatants, and mass executions of civilians. They even said that Italian authorities committed possible ethnic cleansing by forcibly expelling 100,000 Bedouin Cyrenaicans, half the population of Cyrenaica, from their settlements that was slated to be given to Italian settlers.Italian authorities accuse the Libyans of starting the massacres during WWI, when the Italians were reduced to Tripoli and Misurata fortifications and the Italian soldiers taken prisoners of war were massacred by fanatics
  5. ^ Wright, John (1983). Libya: A Modern History. Kent, England: Croom Helm. p. 30. 
  6. ^ Sciara sciat and the massacre of Italians
  7. ^ Gaston Leroud , Matin Journal edition august 23, 1917
  8. ^ a b c Wright 1983, p. 33
  9. ^ a b c d Wright 1983, p. 34
  10. ^ a b c d e f Wright 1983, p. 35
  11. ^ any stragglers who could not keep up with the march were summarily shot by Italian authorities
  12. ^ a b c d Duggan 2007, p. 496
  13. ^ 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. Pp. 83.
  14. ^ Wright 1983, pp. 35–36
  15. ^ Sarti, p196.
  16. ^ 30000 Libyans fought for Italy in WWII
  17. ^ Geoff Simons, Tam Dalyell (British Member of Parliament, forward introduction). Libya: the struggle for survival. St. Martin's Press, 1996. 1996 Pp. 129.
  18. ^ Oxford Business Group (2008). The Report: Libya 2008. p. 17.