Saturday, February 27, 2016

War-torn Libya's Competing Zones of Influence
After year and half of conflict, Libya is now territorially divided between two rival regimes, competing militias and the terrorist Daesh group

By Seifeddin al-Trabulsi and Moataz al-Mejbari
Anadolu News Agency

 The military struggle between Libya’s rival political camps began in earnest a year and a half ago and has since created new territorial divisions -- and areas of competing military influence -- across the North African country.

Libya has remained in a state of turmoil since a bloody rebellion in early 2011 -- part of the "Arab Spring" uprisings -- ended with the ouster and death of longtime Pan-Africanist Muammar Gaddafi.

Since then, the country’s stark political divisions have yielded two rival seats of government, one in Tobruk and one in capital Tripoli, each of which boasts its own institutions and military capacities.

The first political camp is the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) and its affiliated government, led by Prime Minister Khalifa al-Ghweil.

The GNC is a legislative authority, members of which were elected in July of 2012 for two-year terms. In mid-2014, the GNC unilaterally extended its mandate and refused to transfer legislative authority to a newly-elected Council of Representatives.

The 200-member Council of Representatives, for its part, is now based in the eastern city of Tobruk under an "interim" government led by Abdullah al-Thani.

According to some observers, the Council of Representatives lacks legitimacy following a 2014 ruling by Libya’s Tripoli-based Supreme Constitutional Court.

On Nov. 6 of that year, the court ruled that an article in Libya’s constitution was unconstitutional, which essentially meant that the Council of Representatives itself lacked constitutionality.

The council, however, contested this claim, challenging the legitimacy of the court, which it said, was a tool of the Tripoli-based GNC.

As it currently stands, the political polarization in Libya has served to divide the country into different areas of administrative and military control, which are loosely as follows:

1. Areas of administrative control

The GNC currently controls most of western Libya, from the Tunisian border up to -- but not including -- the coastal city of Sirte. Areas under GNC control include capital Tripoli but exclude the city of Zintan and the Warshefana area.

The Tobruk-based government, meanwhile, now controls most of eastern Libya, including Benghazi, the country’s second largest city.

The Daesh terrorist group, for its part, has taken advantage of this ongoing rivalry to capture territory of its own.

Although the terrorist group lost the city of Derna to the Shura Council of Mujahideen -- an Islamist group loyal to neither Tobruk nor Tripoli -- late last year, it currently holds the city of Sirte, the hometown of late leader Gaddafi.

Estimates as to the number of Daesh terrorists currently based in Sirte range from 1,500 (Libyan sources) to 3,000 (sources cited by the western media).

2. Areas of military control

Western Libya is currently witnessing military conflict between the pro-GNC Fajr Libya ("Libyan Dawn") forces on the one hand and the self-styled "Army Operations Command" and the allied Al-Zintan Brigades -- both of which support the Tobruk government -- on the other.

Fajr Libya consists of revolutionaries who fought the Gaddafi regime in 2011. The group currently holds all the territory along the Libyan coast from the outskirts of Sirte to the border of Tunisia.

In eastern Libya, meanwhile, the army loyal to the Tobruk government is fighting Daesh and the "Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries", who fought the Gaddafi regime in Benghazi in 2011.

The military conflict has remained ongoing since May 16, 2014, when -- in a move described as a "coup" by his opponents -- General Khalifa Haftar appeared on Libyan television to announce the dissolution of the Tripoli parliament, which had just unilaterally extended its mandate.

Haftar, with the support of the new government in Tobruk, went on to launch a wide-ranging military operation against the Ansar al-Sharia and Revolutionaries Brigades, both of which had fought the Gaddafi regime during the rebellion.

Haftar (who once served Gadadffi before defecting in the late 1980s) was later promoted to the rank of commander-in-chief of the Tobruk government’s armed forces.

The Daesh terrorist group, meanwhile, has continued to carry out sporadic raids in oil-rich areas of eastern Libya.

And in the country’s south, most territory is held by various tribes who have remained largely neutral in the ongoing conflict between Tobruk and Tripoli.

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