Don’t Believe Libya’s ‘Race to Sirte’ Rhetoric
Drawing upon research from the Eye On ISIS team, I’ve written an article for Middle East Eye explaining how and why Haftar and the Misratans are fighting a rhetorical war over who is ‘more prepared’ and ‘more capable’ of taking on ISIS in Sirte. It would be, of course, ideal if the various factions could put aside their petty grievances and focus on fighting a shared enemy. But events are moving in the opposite direction. In fact, the longstanding Cold War between the Misratans and the LNA has turned hot, with the clashes at Zillah on May 3. These blunders benefit ISIS which is able to pick off its opponents one by one catching them on their heels (like with the attacks at Abu Grein on May 5). The destructiveness of internecine conflict is further highlighted by the current standoff over oil in the East.
The presidential council of the UN-mediated Government of National Accord (GNA) and its affiliated, mainly Misratan, militias and the opposing Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Haftar have initiated a rhetorical race for Sirte. The Misratans and the LNA are the two main military forces inside Libya; they each appear poised to use the fight against IS to further their own dominance as well as to signal to the international community that they alone are the most trusted partner for confronting IS. This petty jockeying is likely to completely prevent the emergence of a genuine anti-IS coalition able to coordinate an attack on Sirte or administer conquered territory…..
Jadhran’s Federalist movement’s control over the oil crescent is now greatly diminished, especially after the arrival of Libyan National Army special forces commander Wanis Bukhamada to effectively mediate the peaceful cooperation of the Petroleum Facilities Guard and the army in the region. This means that the new government and the international community have effectively lost control of Libya’s oil region….
The “race” to Sirte is a trope used by Libya’s primary non-jihadist actors to whip up media frenzy attempting to gain international support. Each proclaiming their own righteousness, they attempt to weaken their traditional tribal and regional enemies denying them access to funds, arms and political support. No one can say if any serious fighting against IS will ever materialise. Even if certain militias do build up the gumption to attack Sirte, until a genuine coalition is formed, they are unlikely to be successful.Western policymakers and regional states shouldn’t trust their Libyan allies’ pronouncements that they are the “man for the job” to defeat IS. Results speak louder than words. And until now, claims to be confronting IS have only been dividing Libyans rather than uniting them.
To read the full article click here.