Sunday, April 10, 2016

Libya: A Nation Dangerously Divided - Derek DeLuca

by Derek DeLuca

Currently, there are two competing governments that claim to be the legal representative of the Libyan people.

Nearly four and half years after Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed by rebel forces during the civil war in 2011, Libya remains bitterly divided, and this division is making the country a prime breeding ground for terrorism.

Unlike Tunisia, its neighbor to the west, Libya has been unable to form a cohesive government after ridding itself of Gaddafi.

The Arab Spring caused chaos in numerous nations, many having their ruling governments overthrown. Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt lost their longtime leaders and all three, as well as others, have had to contend with various terrorist groups while transitioning to new governments.

Currently, there are two competing governments that claim to be the legal representative of the Libyan people.

The internationally recognized, Western-backed Libyan Parliament, also known as the Council of Deputies, is based in the eastern port city of Tobruk. The Libyan Parliament, led by President Aguila Saleh Issa, governs the entire eastern portion of the country, as well as the southern desert region and an enclave near the northwest border with Tunisia.

The Islamist General National Congress is based in the country’s official capital city, Tripoli. The General National Congress is dominated by the radical Sunni organization Muslim Brotherhood, the same organization that assumed power after the fall of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.

It’s worth repeating that the Muslim Brotherhood is a designated terrorist organization by Western and Arab governments. The General National Congress, led by its President Nouri Abusahmain, governs the majority of the northwest corner of the country. 

The division has led to the establishment and expansion of the Islamic State in Libya, an offshoot of ISIS. From its base in the city of Sirte on the Gulf of Sidra, which interestingly enough is the birthplace of Gaddafi, the Islamic State has carved out a territory in north-central Libya. There are conflicting reports regarding the strength of ISIS in Libya. United States intelligence suggests there are about 5,000 to 6,500 fighters in Libya, while others contend it is far fewer.

ISIS has also taken advantage of the tribal squabbles in Libya and the fact that the country is majority Sunni, like the Islamic State itself, to recruit Libyans themselves to attack both of Libya’s opposition governments, as well as innocent people in other countries.

Regardless, the Islamic State has boldly taken advantage of the disorder in Libya, recruiting foreign fighters from Chad, Mali, and Sudan, plotting and carrying out acts of terrorism, including an attack in Tunisia on March 7 that led to the deaths of 52 people.

The international community also fears that Libya’s vast oil reserves will fall into the hands of ISIS, as is the case in Iraq and other countries.

The seriousness of the situation in Libya has reached a fever pitch and the international community has begun to develop plans to take the fight to ISIS in Libya. Initial reports claimed that Italy was planning to send 5,000 troops to its former colony.

Italian prime ninister Matteo Renzi responded to the report by stating that “As long as I am prime minister, Italy will not go to Libya for an invasion with 5,000 men”. Renzi’s response came on the same day as two Italian hostages were freed by the Islamic State.

Renzi, however, did not entirely shut the door on Italy sending any forces in the future. He stipulated that if Libya is successful in forming a unity government and if that government asks Rome for military assistance, Italy would consider forming an international coalition to assist that unity government in combating ISIS. The prime minister proclaimed “If there is a need to intervene, Italy will not back down. But this is not the situation today. The idea of sending 5,000 men is not on the table”.

Currently, several nations are taking part in operations in Libya to stem the expansion of the Islamic State. As of today, The United States, British, French, and Italians have special forces units in the country. The U.S. is carrying out airstrikes against ISIS targets and utilizing armed drones from bases in Sicily. As Matteo Renzi had alluded to, an international coalition of 5,000 to 6,000 soldiers has been discussed amongst the U.S., France, the U.K., Italy, Germany, and several Arab countries.

However, like the Italians, those countries are hesitant, and some are resolutely opposed, to commit thousands of soldiers on behalf of Libya until that country is able to establish a united government that can represent its people properly.

Officials in Libya, from both governments, have tried to bring unity to their country. They acknowledge that they must restore order and establish a single, internationally recognized government before the internationally community before they can receive greater assistance.

On December 23, 2015, the United Nations Security Council voted to endorse an agreement between the two rival Libyan governments to form a united governing body.

The Unity Presidential Council, which has been trying to assemble a unity government, has proposed a government that would be made up of a thirty-two member cabinet that would presumably include representatives from across the country. The proposed government would include moderates and secularists, was well as Islamists.

Currently, the Unity Presidential Council is based in relatively safe Tunisia, but hopes to eventually place itself in Tripoli.

The current head of the Council and the designated prime minister of a united Libya, Fayez Sarraj, is attempting to create a cabinet with a diverse set of political stances. The designated defense minister, Al-Mahdi al-Barghathi, is a commander for the Libyan Parliament. He has been battling several Islamist groups, including the Islamic State.

Sarraj has designated Al-Aref al-Khoga as the interior minister. He is known to have close ties with Islamists around the country, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fayez Sarraj believes the divisions in Libya, exemplified by Al-Barghathi and al-Khoga, can be held in check by a true unity government.

The consequences of Libya being unable to unite and successfully combat the Islamic State would be far-reaching.

If the Islamic State is able to continue its growth in Libya, it would have a springboard to attack Europe with greater ease than conducting operations from Syria and Iraq. Currently, Libya is, for all intents and purposes, a failed state. That environment is extremely conducive for ISIS to strengthen and spread. One needs only to look at Syria and Iraq. In all three nations, the lack of a strong central government allows terrorism to operate more freely. 

From Europe, ISIS operatives will be able to take advantage of the immigration system and enter the United States, as the Boston and San Bernardino bombers have.

Recently, there is reason for some hope. It was reported last week that the two rival governments might be coming to an agreement, and the new government is preparing to move to the capitol city, Tripoli. Whether the agreement can hold remains to be seen.

The United States and Europe must be a partner to Libya and other nations in transition. The stakes are too high not to act. However, the people of Libya, and Syria, and Iraq, etc. must show a willingness to determine the future of their own nations.

Derek DeLuca is a research assistant at the New Jersey General Assembly. He holds a M.A. and B.A. from Monmouth University and has contributed to Homeland Security Today Magazine and American Thinker.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

No comments:

Post a Comment