The Washington Post reports: Militias allied with a former Libyan general staged a brazen attack on Libya’s parliament on Sunday and declared it dissolved, in some of the worst fighting the capital has seen since the 2011 revolution.
By Sunday night, those forces announced that the elected General National Congress was being replaced by an existing constitutional drafting committee. It was far from certain that the order would be observed. But the power grab threatened to send Libya hurtling into a full-blown civil war.
Tripoli residents and journalists reported heavy fighting, including rocket attacks and gunfights, in several central neighborhoods. Dozens of vehicles mounted with antiaircraft guns could be seen speeding toward the center of the capital from a southeastern suburb. Plumes of black smoke rose over the city.
It was unclear whether ex-general Khalifa Haftar commanded sufficient force to prevail in the showdown in Tripoli — the latest chapter in a struggle for power, land and resources that has raged in this oil-rich country since the fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi. The central government has struggled unsuccessfully to rein in scores of militias that emerged from the anti-Gaddafi uprising. [Continue reading…]
Alaa al-Ameri reports: Haftar served as a high-ranking military officer under Muammar Qaddafi and was a prominent commander during Libya’s war with Chad in the 1980s. Following his capture by Chadian forces, he went into exile in the US in 1987, where he joined the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, a group of Libyan exiles who spent much of the 1980s and 1990s trying to kill Qaddafi. Haftar returned to Libya in 2011 in support of the revolution, and was appointed chief of staff to Colonel Abdul Fatah Younis, the National Transitional Council’s commander of revolutionary forces.
The Libya to which Haftar returned had seen the rise and fall of armed Islamist opposition to Qaddafi in the form of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) during the 1990s, and yesterday’s fighting was the latest chapter of a power struggle between Islamist and secularist strands of the 2011 revolution that has been playing itself out since the early days of the uprising against Qaddafi.
Islamist militias began consolidating their power over eastern Libya through targeted assassinations before the revolution was even over — and Younis was arguably their first victim. He was a former close Qaddafi ally, seen by some as Qaddafi’s second in command. He had taken part in the coup that brought Qaddafi to power in 1969, but he defected to the fledgling revolutionary government in February 2011 after he was sent to crush the rebellion in his native Benghazi. Unlike many of Qaddafi’s close circle, Younis was not known for ostentatious living or sadistic violence.
He had, however, coordinated counterinsurgency operations in eastern Libya against the LIFG in the 1990s.
One unique aspect of the LIFG is that it combined figures from a wide swathe of the Islamist spectrum. Some, like Abu Anas al Libi, who was captured in Tripoli by US Special Forces last year, gravitated toward al Qaeda. Others, like Abdelhakim Belhadj, a key military commander during the Libyan revolution and now a politician with the Muslim Brotherhood-linked al-Watan party, maintained a view of armed Islamism that opposes the targeting of civilians per se, but legitimizes military and government targets. The upshot is that the remnants of the LIFG in Libya represent a rare nexus of Muslim Brotherhood and more violent Islamist tendencies.
The legacy of the battle against the LIFG came home to roost at the height of the revolution in July 2011, when Younis was abducted by members of the February 17th Martyrs Brigade — one of the Islamist militias now under attack by Haftar’s forces — and was then reportedly shot dead for his role in the suppression of the LIFG 15 years earlier. His burned body, along with those of two of his officers, was later dumped on the outskirts of Benghazi.
After the revolution, attacks against military personnel continued, though they were initially dismissed as either the settling of old scores dating back to the conflict in the 1990s, or the work of Qaddafi loyalists seeking revenge on colleagues who had defected to the revolutionary forces. From 2012 onward, however, the attacks in eastern Libya seamlessly transitioned from targeting foreigners and Libyans connected to the old regime, to targeting anyone from the Army, police, or judiciary who challenged the dominance of Islamist militias. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: Libya’s army chief ordered the deployment of militias to the capital Monday, a day after the storming of the parliament building in Tripoli apparently by a renegade general’s forces which also staged an attack in Benghazi on Friday.
Monday’s development paves the way for a possible showdown between the militias — which hail from Libya’s western and central regions — and the troops allied with Gen. Khalifa Haftar, whose forces said they also suspended parliament and demanded a hand over of power, blaming the house for empowering militias loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to a statement posted on the official Facebook page of the media officer for the President of the General National Congress, Nouri Abu Sahmain signed an order for “Libya’s Central Shield,” an umbrella group of powerful militias which answer to parliament, to confront “attempts to take over power” in Tripoli, apparently referring to Haftar’s forces. [Continue reading…]