A year after peace agreement, Libya’s internecine conflict endures

Sunday 25/12/2016
UN Special Envoy for Libya Martin Kobler speaks during a press conference to mark International Migrants Day, on December 18th, in Tunis. (AFP)

Tunis - Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj recently announced “the liberation of Sirte” after allied mili­tias had pushed the Islam­ic State (ISIS) out of the Mediterra­nean city following eight months of fighting.
Sarraj, whose appointment as prime minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) was out­lined in a December 2015 peace agreement, has had little success besides the victory over ISIS, how­ever.
“The agreement couldn’t change a single issue that can open a new window of hope for the citizens and for sure it couldn’t establish its grip on the whole country, as many parts in the east and south still lie autonomously detached,” wrote Abdelkader Assad, a Libyan jour­nalist.
The GNA has failed to unite Libya’s warring factions or make progress towards parliamentary elections called for under the agreement.
“Deadlines have been missed, such as the withdrawal of the mi­litias from all cities and residential areas within 30 days of a ceasefire, and the endorsement of the Gov­ernment of National Accord by the House of Representatives within ten days,” said British Ambassador to Libya Peter Millett.
On the plus side for Libya, the loss of Sirte is a significant reversal for ISIS, which captured the city, the birthplace of toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi, in June 2015.
ISIS’s takeover of Sirte had given it an important outpost outside its heartland in Syria and Iraq, setting off alarms worldwide over the dan­gers of ISIS tapping into the coun­try’s energy wealth and its proxim­ity to European shores.
Since the 2011 overthrow of Qaddafi, control of Libya has been split among a number of armed fac­tions involved in violent conflicts while confounding attempts to bring peace to the country.
“The international community underestimated the magnitude of the problem in Libya,” the head of the UN mission in Libya, Martin Kobler, wrote in Le Monde. “Libya needs their partnership and they need Libya. Without such partner­ships, Libya will not have peace and stability internally and its neigh­bours will also suffer the conse­quences.”
“Libya needs a strong dose of an­tibiotics, not aspirin,” he wrote.
With ISIS out of the way in Sirte, there is no longer a buffer between the militias from Misrata in the country’s west and their allies, and the rival forces of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who has been wag­ing a war against Islamists and oth­ers around the eastern city of Beng­hazi for two years.
The Misratans’ alliances with groups such as the Benghazi Revo­lutionary Shura Council and the Benghazi Defence Brigades have raised concerns, including whether they may eventually unite against Haftar.
“There are fears amid the cele­brations of Sirte that the victorious forces in Sirte… might turn against Haftar and fight for the control of the oil terminals,” said Libyan po­litical analyst Alaa Farouk.
Haftar’s forces, which were not involved in the fight for Sirte, had taken control of oil ports to the east in September. Since then, Libya’s oil exports have increased and Haf­tar has strengthened his position in the oil-producing east.
On December 18th, he visited Algiers where he met the minister in charge of Maghreb, Arab and Af­rican diplomacy and travelled to Moscow earlier in the month. Liby­an news reports said he had flown to the United States in late December.
“Anticipating [US] President-elect Donald Trump taking over, influential countries involved in the Libyan crisis like Russia, Egypt, Britain and Algeria are showing more interest,” said Libyan political analyst Fawzi Amar.
Egypt and Russia back Haftar while Turkey and Qatar support the Islamists in the region.
“The roles of Turkey, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are diminishing because of Yemen and Syria,” Amar said, refer­ring to the ongoing conflicts in the latter two countries.