Anti — 22 August 2016

Aug 22, 2016 | Libyan actors

On 19 August, Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister Fayez Serraj held meetings in Tunis with the deputy presidents of the House of Representatives (HoR) to discuss the split within the Presidential Council, and how to reorganize the GNA to enable its legal endorsement by the HoR. The talks also brought representatives from Misrata and the Al-Obeidat tribe in eastern Libya, who signed a hand-written cooperation agreement. However, rather than produce closer rapprochement with HoR opponents, the meetings produced more controversy. One of the attendees, Colonel Muftah Hamza, is a military officer from Tobruk working with the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council (DMSC) and the Benghazi Defense Brigade (BDB), a hardline jihadist militia fighting against the Libyan National Army (LNA) in Benghazi.  The meetings were also reportedly attended by Ali Al Sallabi, symbolic religious patron of the jihadists fighting the LNA in Benghazi, and the brother of Ismail Al Sallabi, a BDB commander.

These optics have further contributed to Serraj’s image as a weak prime minister unable to unify his council, and reliant on hardline and disruptive Islamists.  The issue of the BDB is a fundamental stumbling block for the GNA, and has greatly damaged the very basis of the Libyan Political Agreement. On 28 July, political talks collapsed in Tunis when the Presidential Council refused to designate the BDB as a terrorist group, despite GNA Defense Minister Mahdi Bargathi repeatedly identifying the BDB as such. Yet, on 16 August, the BDB re-pledged its sole allegiance to the Dar Al Ifta, headed by Grand Mufti Sadeq Al Ghariyani, instead of the the GNA.

On 22 August, the HoR managed to hold its first session since February 2016 with the required legal quorum.  Of the 101 members in attendance, 61 voted no-confidence on the current GNA cabinet, but gave the Presidential Council a final opportunity to submit an amended cabinet for a possible future endorsement vote.  This latest development is quite a blow to the internationally recognized GNA, as certain ministers have already assumed their mandates, but may have to now be replaced.  It also directly threatens the continuity and international legitimacy enjoyed by Prime Minister Serraj. In short, the vote could be the death knell for the GNA at its moment of greatest victory against ISIS in Sirte.

In Western Libya, the conflict map is becoming slightly more complicated. The main tension inside the capital is between pro-GNA militias and anti-GNA Islamist/Misratan affiliated factions, signaling a very likely conflict between these militias after the victory in Sirte is secured.  After Haithem Tajouri’s Burki militia attacked the intelligence building last week, the pro-GNA Kikli militia mobilized to oust the Burki militia from Abu Salim, one of the largest municipalities in Greater Tripoli.  Both groups have been clashed several times before, the most recent being on 24 June when each accused the other of targeting its supporters. The rivalry between the two former Libya Dawn allies is fueled by the fact that most of Burki militia are originally from Misrata, while many of the Kikli militia come from Tripoli and the Nafusa Mountains. These rivalries between former allies in the capital indicate that hardline anti-GNA Misratan factions are highly likely to mobilize to Tripoli against these local militias.

West of the capital, a different conflict between regional rivals Zawiyya (former Libya Dawn) and Wershefana (LNA aligned) nearly exploded last week, following a mobilization of militias from the former to forcefully reopen the coastal highway between Zawiyya and Tripoli.  Tensions were high on 20 August, when locals feared that militias from Zawiyya and Sabratha would launch a new offensive against Wershefana. The former Libya Dawn coalition, now calling itself the Libyan Army Western Operations Room, displayed a show of strength in Zawiyya by assembling over 100 armed vehicles.  In Wershefana, armed factions, notably the Abdulhamid Al-Hamali Brigade, have rearmed and mobilized in response.  Sporadic outbreaks of shooting took place between both sides, although no full-scale fighting has yet taken place.