IS Consolidates around Sirte as Talks Are Set to Resume
As the two national blocs continue to fight it out across Libya and to witness increasing internal contradictions and tensions, radical Islamist groups affiliated with the Islamic State are successfully expanding their reach and consolidating their position in Sirte and in the surrounding region. On Saturday 6 June, the village of Harawa surrendered to local IS cells after its elders had negotiated with IS the release of previously captured fighters from the town.
The decision to surrender came in light of the inability of Misratan militias, most notably the 166th Brigade, to grant the village significant military protection. In a way, the peaceful surrender to IS forces of marginalised communities from central coastal Libya is even more of a tell-tale sign of how deeply the country is imploding at all levels. In fact, the political fragmentation witnessed during the past year is something akin to the long standing neglect and marginalisation that favoured the rise of radical Islamist groups in the Iraqi region of Anbar since 2003. An interesting article on the Washington Post outlines the potential impact that these new conquests by the IS could have on Misrata, Libya and the overall economic and political outlook:
The Misurata commanders have been cautious about taking on the Islamic State, even though the militias clashed with extremist fighters in Sirte. But the recent suicide bombing has prompted the commanders to shift their focus. “They see the threat, and they are really focused on it now,” said Frederic Wehrey, a Libya expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Misurata’s militia leaders held meetings in Tripoli, the capital, this past week to coordinate a counterattack, according to an official from the city’s military council. Misurata sits along the coast between Tripoli and Sirte. “The priorities have shifted,” Wehrey said. “Misurata is getting hit [by the Islamic State], and they are just down the road.”
Since the fall of Gaddafi in 2011, this city of about 500,000 — Libya’s third-largest — has enjoyed relative stability. Thanks to advanced infrastructure and the city’s port, Misurata has again established itself as a Mediterranean trade hub.
Meanwhile, UNSMIL announced that, on Monday 8 June, talks between representatives from the two main national blocs will resume in the Moroccan town of Skhirat. According to recent rumours and reports, UNSMIL Chief Bernardino Leon plans to present both blocs with a fully revised new draft political agreement. After the fiasco witnessed in late April, when the third draft was leaked to the media and rejected by the GNC, it seems that parties will not have much room for input and will likely be put in a ‘take it or leave it’ position this time, especially if we bear in mind the imminent start of the month of Ramadan that, as usual, will likely bring all political life in the country to a de facto standstill. As a result, scepticism runs high among observers of Libyan affairs that this set of negotiations session will bring any different result than those that preceded it.