Saturday, August 23, 2014

Chaos in Libya: A Mystery Air Raid
Damage from ongoing violent clashes in Tripoli, Libya.
A hint of foreign involvement fails to presage peace

Aug 23rd 2014

Impasse in Tripoli

THE warplanes came under cover of darkness on August 18th, bombing several sites in and near Tripoli, Libya’s capital, that have been associated with Islamist militias. Few Libyans know for sure who was piloting the aircraft or who had sent them. Some close to Khalifa Haftar, a former general whose forces have been fighting Islamist militias mainly in Benghazi, the country’s second city to the east, have claimed responsibility, though the strikes were probably beyond the capacity of Libya’s own depleted air force. The government of Egypt to the east, known to be worried by the Islamists bidding for power in neighbouring Libya, generally applauds attacks on them and may quietly back Mr Haftar but is loth to intervene directly. To the west the Algerian government, no less hostile to the Islamists, has been widely rumoured to have backed the aerial assault. In any event, the air raids have done nothing to end the prevailing chaos. They may even have made it worse.

For more than five weeks, Tripoli has been pummelled by militias. The international airport has been laid waste. There has been an exodus of residents, including almost all foreign diplomats. In the most recent bout of violence, rockets were fired into the affluent district of Hay Andalus, home to Tripoli’s stockmarket and smartest shops. The fighting, which hitherto had affected mainly the suburbs, has neared the heart of the city. The nocturnal air raids marked an escalation of the violence, just days after Libya’s newly elected parliament called for international intervention to make peace.

Libya’s hapless government said it had no idea who carried out the strikes, underscoring its tenuous grip on a country that has little resembling either a functioning national army or a parliament with real power or purpose. It was recently mooted that a ship moored offshore might be the best location for the new legislature.

The fighting in Tripoli began in earnest in June, when an alliance of militiamen, among them Islamists and fighters from towns including the prosperous port of Misrata, to the east of Tripoli, launched an attack on militias from the mountain town of Zintan, to the south-west.

The capital’s residents are now caught in the middle of a vicious turf war. Fuel is running out. Electricity is increasingly patchy. Shops are becoming emptier. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says that at least 2m people—nearly a third of Libyans—may find themselves short of food if the fighting persists in Tripoli and Benghazi. Some Libyans have clamoured for foreign intervention. But mediators, including the UN, say they have too little to build on while the militias hold sway.

From the print edition: Middle East and Africa

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