Islamic Legion

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The Islamic Legion (Arabic: الفيلق الإسلامي al-Faylaq ul-'Islāmiyyu [1] ) (a.k.a. Islamic Pan-African Legion) was a Libyan-sponsored pan-Arabist paramilitary force, created in 1972. The Legion was part of Muammar Gaddafi's dream of creating the Great Islamic State of the Sahel. [2]

Arabic Central Semitic language

Arabic is a Semitic language that first emerged in the 1st to 4th centuries CE. It is now the lingua franca of the Arab world. It is named after the Arabs, a term initially used to describe peoples living in the area bounded by Mesopotamia in the east and the Anti-Lebanon mountains in the west, in Northwestern Arabia and in the Sinai Peninsula. The ISO classifies Arabic as a macrolanguage comprising 30 modern varieties, including its standard form, Modern Standard Arabic, which is derived from Classical Arabic. This distinction exists primarily among Western linguists; Arabic speakers themselves generally do not distinguish between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic, but rather refer to both as al-ʻArabīyat ul-fuṣḥáStandard Arabic.

Libya Country in north Africa

Libya, officially the State of Libya, is a country in the Maghreb region in North Africa, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad to the south, Niger to the southwest, Algeria to the west, and Tunisia to the northwest. The sovereign state is made of three historical regions: Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica. With an area of almost 1.8 million square kilometres (700,000 sq mi), Libya is the fourth largest country in Africa, and is the 16th largest country in the world. Libya has the 10th-largest proven oil reserves of any country in the world. The largest city and capital, Tripoli, is located in western Libya and contains over one million of Libya's six million people. The second-largest city is Benghazi, which is located in eastern Libya.

Pan-Arabism Ideology espousing the unification of the Arab world

Pan-Arabism, or simply Arabism, is an ideology which espouses the unification of the countries of North Africa and Western Asia from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea, which is referred to as the Arab world. It is closely connected to Arab nationalism, which asserts the view that the Arabs constitute a single nation. Its popularity reached its height during the 1950s and 1960s. Advocates of pan-Arabism have often espoused socialist principles and strongly opposed Western political involvement in the Arab world. It also sought to empower Arab states against outside forces by forming alliances and – to a lesser extent – economic co-operation.



Gaddafi, who had come to power in September 1969, was not only a Pan-Africanist, but according to Gérard Prunier an Arab cultural supremacist. [3] His hostility to Chad's government of President François Tombalbaye was at least partly inspired by Tombalbaye's African and Christian background. It also led Gaddafi to drive the Toubou of Libya, who were considered 'black', from Fezzan and across the Chadian border. Gaddafi supported the Sudanese government of Gaafar Nimeiry, referring to it as an "Arab Nationalist Revolutionary Movement", and even offered to merge the two countries at a meeting in late 1971. Gaddafi's plans for the peaceful formation of an "Arab Union" were dashed when Nimeiry turned down his offer and negotiated the Addis Ababa Agreement ending the First Sudanese Civil War, fought with the Black, animist and Christian, South. [4] Gaddafi's definition of "Arab" was broad, including the Tuareg of Mali and Niger, as well as the Zaghawa of Chad and Sudan. [5]

Pan-Africanism Worldwide movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all people of African descent

Pan-Africanism is a worldwide movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all indigenous and diasporan ethnic groups of African descent. Based on a common goal going back to the Atlantic slave trade, the movement extends beyond continental Africans with a substantial support base among the African diaspora in the Caribbean, Latin America, the United States and Canada. It is based on the belief that unity is vital to economic, social, and political progress and aims to "unify and uplift" people of African descent. The ideology asserts that the fate of all African people and countries are intertwined. At its core Pan-Africanism is a belief that “African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora, share not merely a common history, but a common destiny".

Arabs are a population inhabiting the Arab world. They primarily live in the Arab states in Western Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and western Indian Ocean islands. They also form a significant diaspora, with Arab communities established around the world.

Supremacism is an ideology which holds that a certain class of people is superior to others, and that they should dominate, control, and subjugate others, or are entitled to do so. The supposed superior people can be an age, race species, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, language, social class, ideology, nation, or culture, or any other part of a population.

In 1972, Gaddafi created the Islamic Legion as a tool to unify and Arabize the region. The priority of the Legion was first Chad, and then Sudan. In Darfur, a western province of Sudan, Gaddafi supported the creation of the Arab Gathering (Tajammu al-Arabi), which according to Gérard Prunier was "a militantly racist and pan-Arabist organization which stressed the 'Arab' character of the province." [1] The two organizations shared members and a source of support, and the distinction between the two is often ambiguous.[ citation needed ]

Darfur region of Sudan

Darfur is a region in western Sudan. Dar is an Arabic word meaning home of – the region was named Dardaju while ruled by the Daju, who migrated from Meroë c. 350 AD, and it was then renamed Dartunjur when the Tunjur ruled the area. Darfur was an independent sultanate for several hundred years, incorporated into Sudan by Anglo-Egyptian forces in 1916. The region is divided into five federal states: Central Darfur, East Darfur, North Darfur, South Darfur and West Darfur. Because of the war in Darfur between Sudanese government forces and the indigenous population, the region has been in a state of humanitarian emergency since 2003.

The Legion

This Islamic Legion was mostly composed of immigrants from poorer Sahelian countries, [6] but also, according to a source, thousands of Pakistanis and some Bangladeshis who had been recruited since 1981 with the false promise of civilian jobs once in Libya. [7] Generally speaking, the Legion's members were immigrants who had gone to Libya with no thought of fighting wars, and had been provided with inadequate military training and had sparse commitment.[ citation needed ] A French journalist[ who? ], speaking of the Legion's forces in Chad, observed that they were "foreigners, Arabs or Africans, mercenaries in spite of themselves, wretches who had come to Libya hoping for a civilian job, but found themselves signed up more or less by force to go and fight in an unknown desert." [6]

Sahel Ecoclimatic and biogeographic transition zone in Africa

The Sahel is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition in Africa between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian Savanna to the south. Having a semi-arid climate, it stretches across the south-central latitudes of Northern Africa between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. The name is derived from the Arabic word sāḥil meaning "coast" or "shore" in a figurative sense, while the name in Swahili means "coastal [dweller]" in a literal sense. However, this figurative use is unattested in Classical Arabic. The word might have been derived from the Arabic word sahl.

Pakistan federal parliamentary constitutional republic in South Asia

Pakistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is a country in South Asia. It is the world’s sixth-most populous country with a population exceeding 212,742,631 people. In area, it is the 33rd-largest country, spanning 881,913 square kilometres. Pakistan has a 1,046-kilometre (650-mile) coastline along the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by India to the east, Afghanistan to the west, Iran to the southwest, and China in the northeast. It is separated narrowly from Tajikistan by Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor in the northwest, and also shares a maritime border with Oman.

Bangladesh Country in South Asia

Bangladesh, officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh, is a country in South Asia. It is the world's 8th-most populous country with a population exceeding 162,951,560 people. In area, it is the 92nd-largest country, spanning 147,570 square kilometres (56,980 sq mi). It shares land borders with India to the west and Myanmar to the east. It is also one of the most densely-populated countries in the world. Dhaka is its capital and largest city, and is also the economic, political and the cultural center of Bangladesh, followed by Chittagong, which has the country's largest port. Bangladesh forms the largest and eastern part of the Bengal region. The country's geography is dominated by the Bengal delta, the largest delta in the world. The country has many rivers and 8,046 km (5,000 mi) of inland waterways. Highlands with evergreen forests are found in the northeastern and southeastern regions of the country. The country also has the longest sea beach and the largest mangrove forest in the world. The country's biodiversity includes a vast array of plants and wildlife, including the endangered Bengal tiger, the national animal.

According to the Military Balance published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the force was organized into one armored, one infantry, and one paratroop/commando brigade. It had been supplied with T-54 and T-55 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and EE-9 armored cars. The Legion was reported to have been committed during the fighting in Chad in 1980 and was praised by Gaddafi for its success there. However, it was believed that many of the troops who fled the Chadian attacks of March 1987 were members of the Legion.[ citation needed ]

International Institute for Strategic Studies British research institute in the area of international affairs

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is a British research institute in the area of international affairs. Since 1997 its headquarters have been Arundel House, in London, England. The 2017 Global Go To Think Tank Index ranked IISS as the tenth-best think tank worldwide and the second best Defense and National Security think tank globally, while Transparify ranked it third largest UK think tank by expenditure, but gave it its lowest rating, 'deceptive', on funding transparency.

Gaddafi dispatched legionnaires to Uganda, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, [8] but the Legion was to be mostly associated with the Chadian–Libyan conflict, where already in 1980 7,000 legionnaires participated to the second battle of N'Djamena, [9] where its fighting record was most noted for its ineptitude. [10] To this force Benin's Marxist regime is said to have provided legionnaires during the 1983 offensive in Chad. [11] At the beginning of the 1987 Libyan offensive into Chad, it maintained a force of 2,000 in Darfur. The nearly continuous cross-border raids that resulted greatly contributed to a separate ethnic conflict within Darfur that killed about 9,000 people between 1985 and 1988. [12]

Uganda Republic in East Africa

Uganda, officially the Republic of Uganda, is a country in East-Central Africa. It is bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sudan, to the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to the south-west by Rwanda, and to the south by Tanzania. The southern part of the country includes a substantial portion of Lake Victoria, shared with Kenya and Tanzania. Uganda is in the African Great Lakes region. Uganda also lies within the Nile basin, and has a varied but generally a modified equatorial climate.

State of Palestine De jure state in the Middle East

Palestine, officially the State of Palestine, is a de jure sovereign state in Western Asia claiming the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as the designated capital, although its administrative center is currently located in Ramallah. The entirety of territory claimed by the State of Palestine has been occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967. Palestine has a population of 4,816,503 as of 2016, ranked 123rd in the world.

Lebanon Country in Western Asia

Lebanon, officially known as the Lebanese Republic, is a country in Western Asia. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south, while Cyprus is west across the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon's location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland facilitated its rich history and shaped a cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity. At just 10,452 km2, it is the smallest recognized sovereign state on the mainland Asian continent.

The Legion was disbanded by Gaddafi following its defeats in Chad in 1987 and the Libyan retreat from that country. But its consequences in this region can still be felt. Some of the Janjaweed leaders were among those said to have been trained in Libya, [13] as many Darfuri followers of the Umma Party were forced in exile in the 1970s and 1980s. [14]

The Legion was also to leave a strong impact on the Tuareg living in Mali and Niger. A series of severe droughts had brought many young Tuareg to migrate to Libya, where a number of them were recruited into the Legion, receiving an indoctrination that told them to reject their hereditary chiefs and to fight those governments that excluded the Tuareg from power. After the disbandment of the Legion, these men were to return to their countries and to play an important role in the Tuareg rebellions that erupted in the two countries in 198990. [15]

Immediately prior to the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, there were media reports that his hard-core of supporters included former members of the Islamic Legion who had been granted Libyan citizenship and remained in the country. [16]


In an effort to realize Gaddafi's vision of a united Arab military force, plans for the creation of an Arab Legion have been announced from time to time. The goal, according to the Libyan press, would be to assemble an army of 1 million men and women fighters to prepare for the great Arab battle--"the battle of liberating Palestine, of toppling the reactionary regimes, of annihilating the borders, gates, and barriers between the countries of the Arab homeland, and of creating the single Arab Jamahiriya from the ocean to the gulf." In March 1985, it was announced that the National Command of the Revolutionary Forces Command in the Arab Nation had been formed with Gaddafi at its head. A number of smaller radical Arab groups from Lebanon, Tunisia, Sudan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf states, and Jordan were represented at the inaugural meeting. Syrian Baath Party and radical Palestinian factions were also present. Each of these movements was expected to earmark 10 percent of its forces for service under the new command. As of April 1987, there was no information confirming the existence of such a militia.

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  1. 1 2 G. Prunier, Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide, p. 45
  2. S. Nolutshungu, Limits of Anarchy, p. 127
  3. Prunier, Gérard, Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide, Cornell University Press, 2005, ISBN   0-8014-4450-0
  4. Prunier, pp. 43-45
  5. Flint and de Waal, Darfur: A Short History of a Long War, p. 23
  6. 1 2 S. Nolutshungu, p. 220
  7. J. Thomson, Mercenaries, Pirates and Sovereigns, p. 91
  8. J.-P. Azam et al., Conflict and Growth in Africa, p. 168
  9. G. Simons, Libya and the West, p. 57
  10. J. Wright, Libya, p. 140
  11. J. Markakis & M. Waller, Military Marxist Regimes, p. 73
  12. Prunier, pp. 61-65
  13. de Waal, Alex (2004-08-05). "Counter-Insurgency on the Cheap". London Review of Books . 26 (15).
  14. McGregor, Andrew (2005-06-17). "Terrorism and Violence in the Sudan: The Islamist Manipulation of Darfur". Terrorism Monitor. The Jamestown Foundation. 3 (12). Archived from the original ( Scholar search ) on October 16, 2006.
  15. J.-P. Azam et al., p. 14
  16. Washington Post, March 11, 2011

See also