Although the situation in the capital had been somewhat stable over the past year, various militias are still vying for power.
In fact this week heavy clashes broke out in southern Tripoli districts on August 27 between the 7th Brigade and a coalition of armed brigades made up of Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, Bab Tajoura Brigade, Ghanewa Brigade, Nawasi Brigade and Misrata’s 301 Brigade. The reason of the clashes is still unclear, but the 7th Brigade says “the military operation aims to cleanse Tripoli of corrupt militias, which they used their influence to get bank credits worth millions of dollars while the ordinary people sleep outside banks to get few dinars.”
The causes of Libya’s persistent insecurity and highly turbulent transition period since the revolution of February 2011 are many. Some are internal and caused by the weak institutions Muammar Gaddhafi‘s regime left behind, which has made it difficult for a fragmented society to reach reconciliation.
More importantly, however, instability has also been fuelled by external interference from regional and international players which have been supporting opposing sides in the Libyan conflict both politically and militarily.
Turmoil in Libya has not only affected Libyans, but has also had a negative impact on neighbouring countries and the whole region, as well as Europe and the US. The ongoing conflict has resulted in a steady flow of migrants and refugees to Europe and the proliferation of terrorist groups using Libya as a base.
What happened – (Libya Observer)
On Monday, August 27, the 7th Brigade launched a surprise attack on southern Tripoli districts and advanced into Khallat Furjan, Ein Zara, Wadi Rabea and Salah Eddine. The 7th Brigade, a.k.a Kanyat or Kani brigade, is from Tarhuna, a city some 65 km to the southeast of Tripoli. The name of the brigade was derived from Kani family whose members lead the brigade. The 7th Brigade has been deployed in Qasir Ben Ghashir district of Tripoli for more than a year upon an agreement with Tripoli brigades.
After these clashes, the 7th Brigade managed to gain more ground and control Yarmouk military camp in Salah Eddine district. Misrata’s 301 Brigade, a.k.a Halbous, was reportedly withdrawn from the fighting leaving only Tripoli brigades in the battlefield.
On Tuesday, August 28, a ceasefire agreement was reached at the initiative of the dignitaries of Zawiya city, but it was quickly violated and heavy clashes resumed hours later. On Wednesday, August 29, Tripoli brigades retook Yarmouk military camp, but only for few hours due to a counterattack by 7th Brigade, which managed to regain control of the camp. Another three-day truce was announced late on Wednesday, but it only lasted for few hours and fighting renewed.
The airforce of the Presidential Council reportedly conducted an airstrike on Tarhuna city, causing angry street protests there. The Spokesman for the Chairman of the Presidential Council, Mohammed al-Salak, denied via Twitter that the airforce of the PC had bombed any site inside the city of Tarhuna, stressing that the strikes targeted only the “aggressor’s” positions inside Tripoli. AlSumood Brigade, which is led by senior Libya Dawn Operation commander Salah Badi, has reportedly joined fighting alongside the 7th Brigade.
The Presidential Council denied the affiliation of the 7th Brigade to its ranks. The Presidential Council ordered Thursday the commanders of central and western military zones Mohammed AlHaddad and Osama Al-Juwaili respectively to intervene as a peacekeeping force to end fighting between the two sides.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya, the European Union, Italy, Britain, France and the United States called on all conflicting groups to immediately cease all military action.
In the meantime, hundreds of migrants have been evacuated from Ein Zara detention centre in southern Tripoli because of the clashes that have been taking place there since Monday. The Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency said it managed to evacuate 322 migrants from Eretria, Sudan and Ethiopia to safer places despite the heavy fighting.
How can Libya be stabilised?
A good start for stabilisation efforts on Libya would be to curtail the destructive external interference fuelling the conflict. Countries like the UAE and Egypt have been openly flouting international sanctions on arms, as confirmed by detailed reports from the United Nations Sanctions Committee’s (UNSC) panel of experts on Libya.
Both countries have been supplying heavy arms to Libyan Commander Khalifa Haftar, who has taken over eastern Libya with his army. Cairo and Abu Dhabi have also provided him with military personnel and other military support including military air raids.
Qatar and Turkey have been accused of providing political support for Haftar’s opponents in western Libya.
European countries have been also involved in the conflict, particularly Italy and France, which have been clashing over who should dictate political developments in Libya. While the two, together, led the campaign against Gaddhafi in 2011, today they are playing a dangerous tug-of-war in Libya, which is further destabilising the country.
Just a few months ago, France – supported by the UAE and Egypt – hosted a summit on Libya attempting to impose its own vision of how the conflict should be resolved. Paris is pushing for elections to be held before the end of this year.
Italy has opposed the French plan and has recently aligned with the US behind a proposal to host another international conference on Libya in Rome, possibly in November.
The rivalry between France and Italy is a good example of how a lack of international consensus is prolonging instability in Libya. It is essential that all the key players involved in Libya show commitment to a stabilisation plan, led and implemented by the UN.
Another major step towards stabilising Libya would be the promulgation of a new constitution, something the country has lacked since Gaddhafi came to power in 1969.
Apart from a constitution, Libya also urgently needs an effective and functioning national reconciliation process which includes all political, military, regional and tribal players involved in the conflict.
Another major obstacle to stability and institution-building in Libya is the growing number and power of militias.
An effective stabilisation plan incorporating the above steps and others, should be developed by Libyans and supported by all international actors involved. It is in the interest of all stakeholders in Libya for the country to be stabilised as soon as possible, and its unity and sovereignty preserved.