FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Libya on the Brink of Civil War

by

Libya is tipping toward all-out civil war as rival militias take sides for and against an attempted coup led by a renegade general that has pushed the central government towards disintegration.

In a move likely to deepen the crisis, the army chief of staff, whose regular forces are weak and ill-armed, called on Islamist-led militias to help preserve the government.

His call came after forces commanded by General Khalifa Hifter stormed the parliament building in Tripoli at the weekend, after earlier attacking Islamist militia camps in Benghazi.

The fighting has been the heaviest since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and there are signs that opposing militias and elements of the security forces in different parts of the country and with differing ideologies may be readying to fight a civil war.

A Libyan air force base in Tobruk in the east of the country on Monday declared allegiance to Gen Hifter while Benghazi airport has been closed after being hit with rockets. Some 43 people were killed and 100 wounded in fighting in Benghazi at the end of last week.

The attack on the parliament building in the capital on Sunday was made by militiamen armed with truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The parliament leader Nouri Abu Sahmein – in sympathy with the Islamists – called on an alliance of Islamist militias known as the Libyan Central shield to stop Gen Hifter’s forces.

Al-Qa’ida type movements such as the Lions of Monotheism have pledged to resist Gen Hifter, a spokesman saying on its website that “you have entered a battle you will lose”.

The most powerful competing paramilitary movements are based in Misurata on the coast east of Tripoli and Zintan in the mountains to the west. Zintan appears to be backing Gen Hifter, whose own support inside and outside the country is shadowy, with the powerful Qaqaa and Sawaiq brigades.

The latest step in the dissolution of the Libyan state underlines the degree to which the opposition has proved unable to fill the vacuum left by the fall of Gaddafi. The war which led to his defeat in 2011 was largely fought by NATO air power.

Paradoxically, both the militiamen attacking and defending the government are paid out of the central budget. In addition, Gaddafi had 100,000 men under arms who still receive a monthly salary as if they were part of the regular forces, but few turn up to work.

Al-Qa’ida type militias such as Ansar al-Sharia are strongest in Benghazi where they are held responsible for much of the mayhem. In Tripoli, Islamist militia leaders and their staffs have taken over whole floors of the best hotels such as the Radisson Blu.

On news of fresh fighting in Libya, the international price of oil rose to $110 a barrel for Brent crude. The Libyan oilfields had just been reopened after a prolonged closure of oil export terminals in the east of the country but are now shut again. Libyan oil output has fallen to 200,000 barrels a day, compared to 1.4 million barrels a day produced last year.

Many people in Tripoli express sympathy with General Hifter’s denunciations of the Islamic militias as the popular mood becomes increasingly desperate over the collapse of civil order and the central state. Gen Hifter said “this is not a coup against the state, we are not seeking power. Terrorism and its servants want it to be a battle”. The general, who in the 1980s fought for Gaddafi in Mali but defected to the US, where he lived for many years, returned to Libya in 2011 but played only a limited role in the revolt. His hostility to the militias will go down well with many Libyans, but his forces are in practice just one more militia faction and dependent on his alliance with other militias.

Nevertheless, Libyans express growing support for anybody who can restore order and public safety by whatever means necessary.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of  Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewable of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
Mark Weisbrot
Castro Was Right About US Policy in Latin America
David Swanson
New Rogue Anti-Russia Committee Created in “Intelligence” Act
George Ochenski
Forests of the Future: Local or National Control?
December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
Norman Pollack
Taiwan: A Pustule on International Politics
Kevin Martin
Nuclear Weapons Modernization: a New Nuclear Arms Race? Who Voted for it? Who Will Benefit from It?
David Mattson
3% is not Enough: Towards Restoring Grizzly Bears
Howard Lisnoff
The Person Who Deciphered the Order to Shoot at Kent State
Dave Archambault II
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Statement on Dakota Access Pipeline Decision
Nick Pemberton
Make America Late Again
Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail