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Multinational Scenarios for Libya

Things have never quieted down since the overthrow of the 42-year Gaddafi regime in 2011. Four years have passed, but the conflict and civil strife is still continuing in the country. 

Numerous groups, tribes and radical organizations including armed militias from two rival governments are at war to seize power in the vacuum created by the fall of Gaddafi. The continuing civil war and turmoil in the country have ruined the infrastructure and many important facilities. Some 400,000 Libyans have been internally displaced because of the fighting among the rival groups.

Two Parliaments, Two Governments, Two Armies 

While the new parliament should have met in Benghazi as the ‘Representatives Assembly’ following the general elections on 25 June, 2014, some deputies met together in the city of Tobruk with no authority from the old parliament because of the acts of violence and disorder in the area.

The ‘National General Congress’ that completed its term in Tripoli declared the assembly of deputies in Tobruk was illegitimate since they had not been authorized. Both assemblies then set up their own governments: Two rival administrations emerged, one in the capital, Tripoli, and the other in Tobruk.

The civil war that is still ongoing  is largely between the Fajr Forces loyal to the ‘Libyan Dawn’ coalition that supports the national General Congress in Tripoli and militia loyal to former General Khalife Haftar’s ‘Operation Honor’, supported by the Representatives Assembly in Tobruk. The aim of the conflict is to establish control over the large towns and oil-producing areas.

The regions controlled by the Tripoli government include the capital, Tripoli, Benghazi and Beni Walid. Forces loyal to the government in Tobruk control Tobruk, Bayda and Ajdabiya in the east and Zintan and Zawiya in the west.

In addition to these two forces, there are the Tuareg close to Tripoli and the newly emerged ISIL around Tabular in the south.

The Coup Leader General Haftar Is Now Chief of Staff 

Former General Haftar, who currently commands one of the largest armed forces in Libya, was once an army commander during the Gaddafi  era. When his planned coup against Gaddafi was exposed, Haftar fled to the U.S., where he remained, receiving education, for some 20 years.

Haftar returned during the Libyan Civil War in 2011. His planned coup d'etat against the government with Zintan- based armed groups in May 2014 was neutralized by the Tripoli central administration, supported by revolutionary militias in Tripoli and Misrata.

Since that day Haftar, who openly speaks of ‘waging war against Islamist groups,’ has made the most of the fighter planes under his command and militia groups such as the Zintan Brigade to engage in intense fighting against Islamist groups in the northwest of Libya.

These endeavors must have impressed people, since Abdullah as-Sini, prime minister of the government in Tobruk, recognized the Operation Honor coalition forces loyal to Haftar as the ‘regular army’ and officially appointed him chief of the General Staff.

In this way, the Tobruk government, which the West recognizes as the legitimate government of Libya, is on much firmer foundations now that General Haftar, who enjoys close relations with the U.S., has joined its ranks. 

However, nobody should be surprised if at a later date Haftar seizes sole control in Libya by means of a sudden coup, in the same way as Sisi did in Egypt. 

The Real Aim Is Libyan Oil 

Libya has the largest known oil reserves in Africa, with a known 48 billion barrels. Before the revolution, daily output was 1.6 million barrels, and disputes over the sharing of the oil reserves in the country are the primary reason for the unending internal conflict there. 

Even the groups that started the revolution fell out over eagerness to ensure their share of the oil. Ibrahim Jandan, the leader of the rebels charged with protecting the oil plants in the east of the country, suddenly announced that he had seized the plants in the region; not only that, he also began exporting oil without the agreement of the government.

One interesting development at this point is that some people were taking a closer interest in Libyan oil than the Libyans themselves. U.S. Marines seized the tanker the rebels had loaded with oil to sell overseas in the open sea off southern Cyprus in an operation reminiscent of an action film. Countries such as France and Italy that are very keen on the subject of Libyan oil have had to take a step back as a result of pressure from the U.S.

The Final Player on the Scene: ISIL 

ISIL, which has been trying to take control of oil sources in Syria and Iraq, has now turned to sources in Libya as a new target. ISIL bombed the oil fields several times in March, and is trying to make its presence felt in the region.

In the opinion of former Libyan ambassador to the UAE, Araf Ali Nayad, "The group is growing very fast and can threaten the entire continent, particularly Italy and southern Europe." 

On the other hand Egypt, under the Sisi administration, undertook aerial attacks against ISIL targets in Libya coordination with the Tobruk government in reprisal for ISIL’s brutal murder of 21 Egyptian Copts. That operation allowed Sisi to gain a good deal of domestic support and also  support from the region in the future as a member of the international coalition. In addition, the U.S. giving Egypt 10 Apache helicopters for the fight against ISIL, and the signing of an agreement with France worth $5.9 billion for 24 Rafale warplanes, also indicates that the turmoil in the region will continue to worsen in the days ahead.

As we have seen, Libya today is a place of complex and multilateral scenarios that can change shape at any moment. The best expectation in the first stage of this unfolding drama  will be that the Tripoli and Tobruk governments establish a broad-based government of national unity and can agree on building a climate of stability for work on new constitutional arrangements.’

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