ISIS expands reach in Libyan vacuum
LONDON - Islamic State (ISIS) propaganda tells supporters unable to reach the killing fields of Syria and Iraq to make for Libya instead.
That is hardly a good sign for the North African nation, where a power struggle has pitted political and tribal factions against each other since the end of the NATO-led campaign which led to the fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
ISIS now controls Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte. It has also taken over its military base and airport, Gardabiya. Libyan sources told The Arab Weekly that ISIS fighters are progressing towards key oilfields and water main lines. There is also Libya’s largest air base about 150 kilometres south of Sirte. Slightly further is Ruwagha chemical arms depot, supposedly secured since 2012. Were ISIS to exploit the chaos of civil war to appropriate the financial resources of Libyan oil fields, as they did so expertly in Syria, the entire region would be destabilised. The conflict in northern Mali and the Mediterranean migrant crisis should be ample warning of what may be to come.
Emboldened by its success, ISIS, already fighting Libya’s internationally recognised government, declared war on the rival Islamist Dawn militia that has controlled Tripoli since last year. The declaration was preceded by a suicide car bombing that killed at least five militiamen.
Libya’s internationally recognised government based in the east called for outside help against military advances by the jihadist group and warned of an Iraq-like scenario. But the United Nations has sanctioned an arms embargo on Libya due to fear that any weapons will fuel the conflict.
UN Special Representative in Libya Bernardino Leon has spent months attempting to broker a peace agreement between the elected and internationally recognised government in the east of the country and its Islamist rival in Tripoli. A series of talks have been held in North African capitals but failed to reach accord. Regional states seem more interested in competing to host the talks than see them result in a solution.
Much of the conflict stems from Libyan Islamist forces seizing control of Tripoli after losing a general election in 2014, causing a de facto partition of the country into eastern and western cantons. In the interceding months a low-level, multi-faceted civil war has been under way, with no clear winners apart from the ideologically driven and motivated ISIS fighters.
Meanwhile, Libya’s public finances are foundering. The crisis prompted authorities in Tripoli to plan cuts to petrol subsidies, delay public salary payments and to ban many imports from cars to steel. Civil servants complain they have not been paid for at least two months.
The dinar has lost about 60% of its value against the dollar since last year. Oil production has fallen to 400,000 barrels a day — one-quarter of what it was in 2011.
“Libya is on the verge of economic and financial collapse,” Leon said.