The second international conference on Libya in Berlin, the agenda will be political progress, national elections scheduled for December, and the withdrawal of foreign fighters. In addition, members of Libya’s transitional Government of National Unity headed by Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah are due to attend as well as regional players.
The last time the conference was held, Libya’s warring factions were fighting in the capital. Now, a truce has held since October and all sides have publicly accepted the unity government and planned elections.
What’s behind the conflict after Dbeibah came to power?
Last month in an unprecedented development, they threaten to further complicate the North African state’s intractable civil war. Two thousand Syrian fighters have traveled from Turkey or will arrive imminently to fight on the battlefields of Libya.
The deployment came after in the face of a months-long campaign by his rival, the Khalifa Haftar. Turkey agreed last month to come to the aid of the Libyan prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, who is backed by the UN. Turkey now uses some rebel fighters as proxies against Kurdish-led forces despite allegations of human rights abuses from watchdogs.
Britain imposed sanctions against Libya’s Kaniyat militia, saying those who breached international law in Libya would have to face consequences. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the Kaniyat militia had overseen a five-year reign of terror until 2020, torturing and murdering innocent people. Last year, United States unilaterally blacklisted militia and its leader after Russia prevented a U.N. Security Council committee from imposing sanctions over human rights abuses by the group.
Ankara has supported Syrian opposition since the early days of battle against the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, even as the original Free Syrian Army umbrella group grew weak and splintered coz of infighting and the growth of Islamist elements within rebel ranks. The United States on Tuesday sent its highest-level official to Libya since 2014 in what is called a signal of Washington’s increased focus on efforts to resolve the country’s crisis. The goal of the United States is a sovereign, stable, unified Libya with no foreign interference and a state that is capable of combating terrorism.
Acting assistant secretary of state Joey Hood met Libya’s new Government of National Unity (GNU) head Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh and Presidency Council chief Mohamed al-Menfi. Libya has had little peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, which splintered the country between armed groups who wielded power on the ground and eventually coalesced into two main factions in east and west that operated rival administrations from 2014 until this year. The GNU has the mandate to unify state institutions split by the years of warfare, improve government services and prepare for a national election in December.
An initial deployment of 300 men from the second division of the Syrian National Army (SNA), an umbrella of Syrian rebel groups funded by Turkey, left Syria through the Hawar Kilis military border crossing on 24 December, followed by 350 more on 29 December.
They were tan flown to Tripoli, the Libyan capital, where they have been posted to frontline positions in the east of the city. Turkey, which is the war-backed U.N.-recognised government with military help, has kept its presence in western areas. Mercenaries and air power supplied by Russia and the United Arab Emirates, according to the United Nations, are in eastern areas.
On both main sides of the conflict, in eastern and western Libya, powerful figures have challenged elements of the GNU’s mandate or cabinet, and diplomats have privately called into question the likelihood of elections going ahead. Hood is the latest in a parade of foreign diplomats and politicians visiting Libya since the GNU took office, representing countries that backed different sides in the war, with some reopening long-closed embassies. In addition, the United States has been more vocal on Libya issues since last summer, when its military Africa Command issued statements about the presence of Russian military assets in the country. Moreover, another 1,350 men crossed into Turkey on 5 January. Some have since been deployed to Libya with others still undergoing training at camps in southern Turkey.
I think Syrian men are expected to coalesce into a division named after Libyan resistance leader Omar al-Mukhtar, who was October 1911, during the Italy-Turkish War, the Regia Marina (Italian Royal Navy) under the command of Admiral Luigi Faravelli reached the shores of Libya, tan a territory subject to Ottoman control. The admiral demanded that the Ottoman administration and garrison surrender their territory to the Italians or incur the immediate destruction of the city of Tripoli and Benghazi. The Ottomans and their Libyan allies withdrew to the countryside instead of surrendering, and the Italians bombarded the cities for three days, and tan proclaimed the Tripolitania’s to be ‘committed and strongly bound to Italy’. This marked the beginning of a series of battles between the Italian colonial forces and the Libyan armed opposition in Cyrenaica and became popular in Syria during the 2011 Arab spring.
Fighters have signed six-month contracts directly with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), rather than with the Turkish military, for $2,000 (£1,500) a month – a vast sum compared with the 450-550 Turkish lira (£52-£72) a month they earn in Syria. All have been promised Turkish nationality, a carrot Ankara has used to cajole fighters in brigades on its payroll for several years.
Turkey itself has so far sent just 35 soldiers to Tripoli in an advisory capacity, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said. Unlike last October’s incursion into Kurdish-held parts of Syria, intervention in Libya has little support among the Turkish public. However, after Haftar walked away from talks in Moscow without agreeing to a ceasefire, Erdoğan said Turkey would not refrain from “teaching a lesson he deserves” to the Libyan warlord.
How did Libya advance politically?
Haftar is supported by Egypt, France, Jordan, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, while Sarraj is backed by Italy, Qatar and Turkey. Officials from Sarraj’s internationally recognised government has expressed anger their allies, other than Turkey, has effectively abandoned them since Haftar declared his intention to capture Tripoli last April.
Haftar continues to fight last month. An influx of 3,000 Sudanese had been sent to Benghazi to fight for Haftar, joining around 600 Russian mercenaries. In another sign, the conflict’s parameters are growing. After Haftar’s offensive collapsed, figures in east and west camps negotiated a resumption of oil exports and the United Nations brokered a ceasefire.
After that, the U.N. selected 75 Libyans to hold political talks on a roadmap. They agreed to replace the two rival administrations with an interim government to oversee the run-up to elections on Dec. 24, 2021.
Will there really be elections in December?
All of the members of the unity government have repeatedly vowed to go through with the election but there are obstacles and private doubts about everybody’s commitment that came from ISIS. The members have agreed to a legal basis for elections and some people want a referendum to take place first on a new constitution and abolition of the old constitution.
In the end, the parliament has blocked Dbeibeh’s proposed budget affecting his ability to win support for the unity of government by improving state services and distributing largesse.
Now the question remains, will the new members take the country to a roadmap for progress, or will they do as they did the previous ones?
The views and opinions expressed in this opinion article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Eastern Herald.