Having been promised substantial support by fellow Arab countries to fight the Islamic State Group, the official Libyan government faces bitter accusations of treason by its political rival back home. The Arab League endorsed foreign military assistance to the Libyan army, angering the Libyan opposition, in whose view the army is not conducting a counter-terrorism campaign but a military takeover.
In the wake of the Arab League’s extraordinary summit in Cairo on Tuesday, Libya’s rival legislature, the General National Congress, condemned the “dissolved parliament’s deliberate efforts to confuse matters” in order to be propped up by its allies abroad, referring to parliament’s increasingly urgent calls for foreign support. The House of Representatives, which is recognized by the international community as Libya’s sole legitimate legislature, is seeking international backing for the 15-months long war the Libyan army is waging against extremist armed groups.
The rapid expansion of the Islamic State since the start of the year is a source of deep concern among Libya’s neighbors and regional powers Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who are looking at ways to deal with the terrorist group.
To the backdrop of IS militants killing dozens of residents in the central Libyan city of Sirte, Libya’s foreign affairs minister is now calling for foreign airstrikes against IS, arguing that the Libyan airforce cannot deal with the emergency with “only two airplanes”.
But from the Libyan capital, the GNC issued a harshly worded statement on Monday, accusing the HoR and the government of taking advantage of the situation in Sirte to provoke a foreign intervention, following the “failure of its militias to … control Benghazi and Derna“. The GNC moreover blamed the HoR for the stagnation of the UN-led political dialogue, stating: “after parliamentarians – the “coup leaders“ – realized there was no place for them in the Libya of consensus they went to look for allies to make the dialogue fail”.
The most severe accusations were directed at General Khalifa Haftar, the HoR-approved chief of the Libyan army. “Anyone who follows the events can see the close relation between Haftar’s actions and the spread of the so called IS organization”, the statement said. The army leadership has been accused of deliberately sparing the terrorists in Sirte and fighting only against extremist groups affiliated with its political rival as part of a plan to seize power. “If Haftar really wanted to protect civilians the first thing he should do is stop the daily airstrikes on Benghazi in which illicit weapons such as barrel bombs are being used”, the statement argued.
The GNC warned that any foreign intervention would be considered a violation of national sovereignty and that the international community would be held responsible.
Concluding its rant, the GNC said it was still in charge of defending the Libyan people and perfectly capable of liberating Sirte from IS rule without any foreign intervention.
But events of the past few months suggest otherwise. Brigade 166 – a Misratan force tasked by the GNC to protect Sirte in February – was forced to withdraw from the city in late May after weeks of battle against IS. Since then IS has consolidated its grasp on the city carried out many attacks against security forces, including in Misrata. Libyans are watching with horror as the terrorist group brutally quells a local uprising that broke out a week ago. Airstrikes launched by both the army and the Tripoli-based forces have so far proven insufficient to change the balance of forces.
Echoing the GNC statement, Congress President Nuri Busahmain also on Monday sent an open letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in which he assured that the GNC was committed to fight all forms of terrorism. Busahmain repeated the accusations against Haftar, saying that there were “many indicators suggesting coordination between the terrorists in Sirte and Derna and Haftar forces under the guidance of ex-regime figures in Egypt, who consider IS members pure and justify their crimes.” This is a reference to Gaddafi’s cousin Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, who has been based in Cairo since the revolution, and who controversially said that IS youth were “pure”.