Libya’s civil war demands international attention

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Over three years have passed since the Nato-backed overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi was praised for sowing the seeds of a new democratic order in Libya.

The then newly-appointed defence secretary Phillip Hammond announced that the time was ripe for businesses to be ‘packing their suitcases’ in order to capitalise on lucrative reconstruction contracts. Standing in Benghazi about a month before this, David Cameron had proclaimed that ‘Your city was an inspiration to the world. You threw off a dictator and chose freedom’.

Yet such rhetoric has been proven this to be hollow and Libya has been conveniently shunted off centre-stage by the Ukraine crisis. But Benghazi is now once again a flashpoint, raked by intermittent conflicts between the Islamist militias in control and the city’s would-be liberators.

It is a conflagration which offers a microcosm of the country’s messy factionalism; by some accounts, there are as many as 1700 different militias currently operating.

Qadaffi’s sizeable arsenal – provided by European countries – may have spread to other conflicts in the Middle East but there is no shortage of arms in the country itself. Claims have arisen that militias have captured chemical weapons including mustard gas and sarin which were stockpiled under the dictator.

The south of the country is riven by the tussle for control of the country’s oil fields. The internationally recognised government headed up by Abdullah al-Thinni holds on to Tobruk, after his ouster from Tripoli in 2014, while his successor, Omar al-Hassi, operates out of the capital city protected by Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn), who also control the resource-rich Misrata.

Most alarmingly, a group allied to IS has established a strong presence in Sirte and Derna, in the north and northeast of the country, respectively.

Sunday 15th February saw jihadists claiming affiliation with the extremist group release a gruesome video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians. This was met by swift resolution from Egypt, who carried out airstrikes in the early hours of the following morning, hitting Derna in an attempt to disrupt the militants and send a message regarding the group’s regional ambitions.

The US, UK, France, Germany and Spain issued a joint statement reiterating their support for the peaceful solution of a national unity government. But as delegations from both Tripoli and Tobruk prepared to meet in Morocco this Thursday (26th) further violence erupted. 40 people were killed and 70 more seriously injured in the eastern town of al-Qubbah after three car bombs were detonated by IS affiliates.

The apparent failure of al-Hassi’s rival government to condemn these attacks prompted the Tobruk government to pull out of negotiations, the latest stumbling block in already fraught relations.

In truth, it will probably take more than a few isolated airstrikes to dispatch the hydra of Jihadism, burgeoning in yet another power vacuum, let alone to unite the diverse interests vying for control of the country’s resources.

As IS expands its operation, some critics have suggested that this is tantamount to pouring petrol into the tinder box, exacerbating a widely-felt resentment in the region with what some perceive as the rumblings of further foreign interference.

For now, talking it out remains the only viable solution, yet this is easier said than done with the continual recrudescence of violence and the need for both sides to make concessions.

 Photograph: WikipediaLibyan Civil War

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