Libyan Islamist Militias Form Second Government after Securing Capital

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By: Luke Gould


Islamist militias installed a government after sizing the international airport in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, earlier this week. This development brings the polarized nation one step closer to all out civil war and adds another front on the global struggle against Islamic extremism.

Islamists in the areas between Tripoli and Misrata created the Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) coalition which after five weeks of fierce fighting captured the Tripoli International Airport from the pro-government Zintan militia, thus securing their control of the city.

With support from Libyan Dawn, Libya’s former General National Congress (GNC) reconvened on Aug. 25 in Tripoli. They selected a Prime Minister endorsed by the militants. The country is now home to two parliaments both backed by armed militia groups.

Libya’s official UN recognized government, an elected House of Representatives, located in the eastern city of Tobruk, has announced a state of war with Fajr Libya and declared the group a terrorist organization.

This outbreak of violence comes following July elections in which Islamist parties lost considerable ground in the House of Representatives. Libyan Dawn accuses the house of being dominated by former supporters of Dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The Libyan House of Representatives is weak and commands little real authority. It relies on pro-government militias to combat the Islamists. Official military and police forces are few. The majority of pro-government militias are left over military units from the Gadhafi regime. Attempts to disarm Islamist militias and incorporate pro-government militias into the national armed forces have been marked with failure. The power void that was left in Gaddafi’s wake is being filled, but not by the official House of Representatives. This is a government in name only which will become but a small player in a greater proxy war if it does not manage to stabilize Libya. The Libyan House made an unsuccessful appeal for military support at the UN in July. It is likely that calls for international aid will continue.

French President Francois Hollande called on the United Nations on Aug. 28 to organize support for the Libyan government. “If we do not do anything internationally, terrorism will spread across the entire region,” the French head of state said during an annual address.

In Washington, the Obama administration appears to be overwhelmed by the growing number of conflicts around the world. The tense situations in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria and to a lesser extent Gaza are occupying the time of policy makers. Even if the US were to call for international aid or intervention in Libya, it would make little difference given its waning influence on world affairs and its generally inept foreign policy. Earlier this week during a press briefing, President Obama said the United States “doesn’t have a strategy yet” against what is arguable its greatest threat, the Islamic State. It is difficult to imagine this administration, which has no solid strategy in place to combat its own worst enemy, formulating a policy that will better the situation in Libya.

Libya’s official interim Prime Minister, Abdullah al-Thinni and his cabinet stepped down, on Aug. 28, to allow the House to form a new more inclusive executive government that can bring the tense situation under control.

The capture of the international airport in Tripoli comes amid unidentified airstrikes against Libyan Dawn. Unidentified jets are reported to have killed 17 fighters during the fighting. Libyan Dawn is pinning responsibility on Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The organization has also accused Libya’s House for complicity with Egypt and the UAE. All three governments have denied responsibility or previous knowledge of the event.

“The Emirates and Egypt are involved in this cowardly aggression; we reserve the right to respond at the opportune moment,” said Ahmed Hadia, a spokesman for Dawn.

Despite the airstrikes and five weeks of fierce fighting, militants are euphoric following their victory. Social media images and video from Libyan Dawn fighters, show triumphant, camouflage clad, militants firing randomly into the air shouting “Allahu Akbar” – “God is great” in celebration.

Perhaps this celebration is a bit premature. Libya’s conflict is likely to worsen and take on the traits of a proxy war with western nations and their allies supporting the official government in Tobruk and powers more inclined to radical Islam supporting the government in Tripoli. The nation could very easily plunge into a civil war lasting years and costing thousands of lives. Ultimately, violence in Libya appears to be yet another small piece in the sequence of tragic conflicts that have plagued the globe in recent months.

Photo Credit of Reuters News Agency

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