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

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 03, 2015
Sal Rodriguez
How California Prison Hunger Strikes Sparked Solitary Confinement Reforms
Lawrence Ware
Leave Michael Vick Alone: the Racism and Misogyny of Football Fans
Dave Lindorff
Is Obama the Worst President Ever?
Vijay Prashad
The Return of Social Democracy?
Ellen Brown
Quantitative Easing for People: Jeremy Corbyn’s Radical Proposal
Paul Craig Roberts
The Rise of the Inhumanes: Barron, Bybee, Yoo and Bradford
Binoy Kampmark
Inside Emailgate: Hillary’s Latest Problem
Lynn Holland
For the Love of Water: El Salvador’s Mining Ban
Geoff Dutton
Time for Some Anger Management
Jack Rasmus
The New Colonialism: Greece and Ukraine
Norman Pollack
American Jews and the Iran Accord: The Politics of Fear
John Grant
Sorting Through the Bullshit in America
David Macaray
The Unbearable Lightness of Treaties
Chad Nelson
Lessig Uses a Scalpel Where a Machete is Needed
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy