The Scramble for Sirte
In this article discussing the fight against the Islamic State in Libya, the Economist quotes Jason Pack in noting that the race to liberate Sirte is solidifying the divides between the Eastern and Western governments. Rather than representing a source of collaboration, the liberation of Sirte has become a point of contention in the competing narratives which Haftar and Serraj represent. The true prize for Sirte’s liberation is not the expulsion of ISIS, but an opportunity to lay claim to a “monopoly over the legitimate use of force.” The defining characteristic of a state and a notion whose absence has been a fixture of Libya’s post-revolutionary landscape.
It is, for now, “a rhetorical race to Sirte”, says Jason Pack of Libya-Analysis, a consultancy. No one has actually attacked the jihadists. General Haftar, who is backed by Egypt and the UAE, is still consolidating his supply lines. But he seems eager to prove himself an indispensable ally in the West’s fight against IS—and to increase his influence in future negotiations over the shape of Libya’s government. Some believe he is hoping for Mr Serraj to fail, and then to assume the role of strongman….General Haftar is raising tensions in other ways. He has refused to meet Martin Kobler, the UN’s envoy to Libya. And he has struck an alliance with commanders who served under Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s late dictator. IS, for its part, is likely to put up a vicious defence of its stronghold. America, Britain and France, which have troops on the ground in Libya, may eventually be forced to choose between backing Mr Haftar in his fight against IS in Sirte, or preserving the legitimacy of Mr Serraj.
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