"Can Libya’s warring factions ever be reconciled?"
ARTICLE published by The Times
When gunmen stormed the headquarters of Libya’s National Oil Corporation on Monday, working out who the culprits were could have been a whodunnit detective story.
Such is the chaotic state of the country that there are any number of suspects. In a separate incident this month, Tripoli was torn apart by fighting, with three militias, two notionally loyal to what passes for a government, attacked by a third from the south. Scores were killed.
The “Government of National Accord” or GNA has a separate enemy which runs the east of the country, the anti-Islamist General Khalifa Haftar and his “Libyan National Army”. The two sides have agreed a ceasefire but have been arguing all year over who benefits from the oil corporation’s revenue.
Then there are a variety of al-Qaeda offshoots, particularly in Libya’s lawless desert south, which could have wanted to make a statement by attacking the oil company’s headquarters in Tripoli this week.
In the end, the classic Islamic State modus operandi — a small number of gunmen trying to cause maximum damage before being killed, with no attempt to escape — was too clear to miss. And last night the group did indeed claim responsibility.
It is hardly a surprise that Isis should be active in a country as weak and divided as Libya, even though an attempt to build its own regional wilayat there — a province of the Raqqa-based caliphate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — was defeated with American air support.
What is more of a surprise is the absence of any believable plan by the outside world to put the country back together again, given the role outsiders played in removing the government of Colonel Gaddafi seven years ago.
There is a formal solution, involving United Nations backing for the GNA, followed by parliamentary and presidential elections, to which both it and General Haftar have signed up. But few of the western and Gulf powers involved in Libya believe either that the GNA is a real government or that the elections have much chance of working.
Separately, a charity called the Brazzaville Foundation, headed by an experienced peace negotiator called Jean Yves Ollivier, is hosting a second round of peace talks with a view to allowing Libyans to come up with their own plan given the absence of credible foreign commitment.
But western and Gulf leaders can’t even agree among themselves. For the Gulf monarchies, Libya is just another of the stages on which they can take out their grievances with each other, and their dispute over the role of Islam in politics, with the United Arab Emirates backing one side — General Haftar — and Qatar supporting Tripoli.