Libya in crisis: Rival militias position themselves for civil war as country disintegrates

 

Libya is tipping toward all-out civil war as rival militias take sides for and against an attempted coup led by a renegade general that has pushed the central government towards disintegration.

In a move likely to deepen the crisis, the army chief of staff, whose regular forces are weak and ill-armed, called on Islamist-led militias to help preserve the government.

His call came after forces commanded by General Khalifa Hifter stormed the parliament building in Tripoli at the weekend, after earlier attacking Islamist militia camps in Benghazi.

The fighting has been the heaviest since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and there are signs that opposing militias and elements of the security forces in different parts of the country and with differing ideologies may be readying to fight a civil war.

A Libyan air force base in Tobruk in the east of the country on Monday declared allegiance to Gen Hifter while Benghazi airport has been closed after being hit with rockets. Some 43 people were killed and 100 wounded in fighting in Benghazi at the end of last week.

General Khalifa Hifter instigated the attack on the parliament building in Tripoli General Khalifa Hifter instigated the attack on the parliament building in Tripoli (AP)

The attack on the parliament building in the capital on Sunday was made by militiamen armed with truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The parliament leader Nouri Abu Sahmein – in sympathy with the Islamists – called on an alliance of Islamist militias known as the Libyan Central shield to stop Gen Hifter’s forces.

Al-Qa’ida type movements such as the Lions of Monotheism have pledged to resist Gen Hifter, a spokesman saying on its website that “you have entered a battle you will lose”.

The most powerful competing paramilitary movements are based in Misurata on the coast east of Tripoli and Zintan in the mountains to the west. Zintan appears to be backing Gen Hifter, whose own support inside and outside the country is shadowy, with the powerful Qaqaa and Sawaiq brigades.

Read more: Why the global 'war on terror' went wrong

The latest step in the dissolution of the Libyan state underlines the degree to which the opposition has proved unable to fill the vacuum left by the fall of Gaddafi. The war which led to his defeat in 2011 was largely fought by NATO air power.

Paradoxically, both the militiamen attacking and defending the government are paid out of the central budget. In addition, Gaddafi had 100,000 men under arms who still receive a monthly salary as if they were part of the regular forces, but few turn up to work.

Al-Qa’ida type militias such as Ansar al-Sharia are strongest in Benghazi where they are held responsible for much of the mayhem. In Tripoli, Islamist militia leaders and their staffs have taken over whole floors of the best hotels such as the Radisson Blu.

On news of fresh fighting in Libya, the international price of oil rose to $110 a barrel for Brent crude. The Libyan oilfields had just been reopened after a prolonged closure of oil export terminals in the east of the country but are now shut again. Libyan oil output has fallen to 200,000 barrels a day, compared to 1.4 million barrels a day produced last year.

Many people in Tripoli express sympathy with General Hifter’s denunciations of the Islamic militias as the popular mood becomes increasingly desperate over the collapse of civil order and the central state. Gen Hifter said “this is not a coup against the state, we are not seeking power. Terrorism and its servants want it to be a battle”. The general, who in the 1980s fought for Gaddafi in Mali but defected to the US, where he lived for many years, returned to Libya in 2011 but played only a limited role in the revolt. His hostility to the militias will go down well with many Libyans, but his forces are in practice just one more militia faction and dependent on his alliance with other militias.

Nevertheless, Libyans express growing support for anybody who can restore order and public safety by whatever means necessary.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on