New Ministerial List and Attempted anti-Haftar Putsch to Secure GNA
On the evening of Sunday 14 February, the UN mediated Presidency Council (PC) announced its new ministerial lineup for Libya’s long awaited unity government. The new formation has been dramatically reduced to 18 ministers, and includes a number of technocrats with pre-2011 experience.
Although the nomination of ‘Mahdi El Barghathi’ as a Minister of Defense is celebrated by some (especially in the oil crescent region) as a fair solution to the ‘Haftar Dilemma’, it is also causing widespread controversy and fuelling tribal and political infighting in the region. Mahdi’s nomination, is seen by Haftar loyalists in Eastern Libya as a circumvention of the LNA’s war against terrorism and a trick by the Muslim Brotherhood to divide and subvert the Libyan National Army currently ‘unified’ by Haftar.
Rifts within militias supporting Haftar’s LNA forces in Benghazi are escalating. Reports of 180 French Special Forces in Benina airbase and Bu Atni front are circulating in Eastern Libya, fuelling controversy regarding who are their interlocutors in the LNA. Some LNA unit commanders, demanded that Haftar and the HoR political leadership not work with Western special ops, backtracking on their decision to engage western Special Forces in the current fight, stressing that they will not fight terrorism under an ‘occupation’ force.
On the other hand, accusations are also being laid against these very commanders, claiming that they were recruited by the ‘British secret service’ to subvert Haftar’s leadership of the LNA in the East of Libya. These include Clnl Mahdi Al Barghathi, current nominee for the Minister of Defense in the newly proposed GNA, Faraj Al Barasi (commander in Suq Al hoot/Sabri front near Benghazi port), Ibrahim Jadhran (commander of the PFG), Faraj Gaim (Anti Terrorism Unit), and Khalid and Salah Bulghib (Military Intel).
In short these commanders are being framed as orchestrating a coup on behalf of the Presidential Council against Haftar and the current LNA structure, and tensions are anticipated to intensify between them and the HoR/Haftar. These commanders are in favour of the GNA and have been at odds with Haftar for some time, but their popularity and legitimacy remains less thanHaftar’s.
Former spokesperson of the LNA Major Mohammed Hejazi’s defection last month, seen to be part of this ‘anti-Haftar’ agenda, in effect failed to snowball into a political defeat for Haftar. Despite the concerns generated by these accusations, the incident has noticeably strengthened Haftar’s popularity despite growing disillusionment in Benghazi about his effectiveness in fighting terrorism and stabilizing the city.
In the western region, different dynamics are taking place. Abdul Rahim Al Bakkush, a military officer in the Sawaeq brigade (affiliated with Haftar’s LNA in the western region) was assassinated, with three others in the main road near Sabratha hospital, on 13 February, with extremists or hard line Libya Dawn fighters suspected.31 Members of Misrata’s ‘Council of Wise Men and Elders’ announced their resignation, following the resignation of around 40 members a few months ago. The ‘council’ nominally represents the more hardline revolutionary factions in Misrata, and was endorsed by the GNC controlling Tripoli on 6 May 2015 as a counterbalancing force to the Local municipal council of the city and the boycotting members of the HoR supporting the LPA.
The move signals a new break between moderate forces in Misrata supporting the dialogue process, and the more hardline forces in Tripoli who oppose the UN mediated GNA, further isolating hardliners more within Tripoli itself. While this gives a more positive outlook for the stability of Misrata itself, reducing the threat of infighting and rival clashes within the city, it indicates a more negative outlook for conflict in Tripoli.