How the battle for Libya has become a conflict of power

1. Who competes for power in Libya?

Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj came to power through a political agreement backed by the United Nations in 2015. But a rival government established in eastern Libya and aligned with Haftar, 76. His coalition of troops and regular militias, called the National Army of Libya, gained fame for taking the cities of Benghazi and Derna from al-Qaeda affiliated militants. Haftar gradually extended its control over the east of the country and then to the south, leaving it in control of most of Libya’s oil fields and terminals. After an attempt to sell oil in 2018 triggered a US warning. In the US, Haftar restored control of the resource to the National Oil Corp. and the central bank’s revenues, which respond to the government in Tripoli. In April, Haftar moved to the capital.

2. What has happened since then?

The battle lines have barely changed. Backed by Turkish drones, forces loyal to the recognized government had several successes, including the recovery of the city of Gharyan, the base of Haftar during the summer. After that, they struggled to stand firm when hundreds of Russian mercenaries came to the front to support Haftar, bringing experience in artillery and ground combat perfected in Syria and Ukraine. Also backed by Sudanese mercenaries and drones from the United Arab Emirates, Haftar forces spent months trying to break the defensive lines in the suburbs of Tripoli. outside, eventually making its way into some suburbs. They also took over the coastal city of Sirte.

3. What are the chances of peace?

Haftar forces announced on January 11 a stop in their offensive, days after a meeting between the leaders of Russia and Turkey. But Haftar left the talks in Moscow on January 13 without putting his name on a more permanent truce agreement that Sarraj had signed. Germany plans to organize a conference in January that brings together the countries involved in Libya. He wants them to agree to respect an existing UN embargo on arms transfers to Libya and to shape a political resolution that Libyan rivals can agree with. Skeptics argue that foreign powers are not yet ready to resign.

4. Where do Russia and Turkey fit in?

Initially, Russia maintained contacts with both parties while promoting Gaddafi’s son, Saif, as future president. In September, however, Russia switched to a resounding support for Haftar despite his doubts about a figure who had connections with the CIA during a 20-year stay in the US. UU. More than 1,000 mercenaries with the Wagner group, headed by a Russian confidant President Vladimir Putin, has been helping Haftar. Turkey, under the presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has enjoyed good relations with Sarraj, obtaining from his government the recognition long sought by the Turkish claims of a disputed Mediterranean area rich in gas.

5. How have other countries chosen sides?

Although the U.A.E. and Egypt initially had doubts about an offensive that they predicted would become a quagmire, they supported Haftar. Both see him as a strong and reliable man who could end the chaos of Libya, and oppose some of Sarraj’s Islamist allies, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which defines itself as nonviolent, but some governments in the East Middle consider it subversive. Erdogan hugs the group. The United States has sent mixed messages to Libyan rivals. Russian participation has prompted him to push harder for a peace agreement.

6. Why did Haftar launch the battle in the first place?

Haftar had promised for years to take Tripoli, after a failed coup attempt in 2014 forced him to establish a base in the east. The UN, the United States and other powers hoped to avoid a Tripoli offensive by negotiating a political agreement between the two factions. Haftar’s advisers said they did not trust Sarraj to comply with an agreement to share the power that would lead to elections, and accused him of being in debt to the militias and extremists. They complained that oil revenues were unfairly distributed, to the detriment of the historically marginalized east. The Sarraj government responds to the accusation of extremism by pointing out its cooperation against terrorism with the US. UU. And other western countries, and the success of the forces loyal to the government in expelling the Islamic State of Sirte in 2016. He accuses Haftar of trying to restore the military dictatorship.

7. Who supports both parties locally?

Haftar has the support of the main eastern tribes and some western cities, including Tarhouna, the neighbor of Tripoli. The Sarraj government has the support of militias in Tripoli and neighboring Misrata, and the powerful forces of former defense minister Osama al-Juwaili de Zintan. Both parties are increasingly dependent on foreign customers.

8. What is happening with oil production?

Libya is at the top of the largest oil reserves in Africa. Mustafa Sanalla, president of the National Oil Corp., warned that fighting in Tripoli could affect production. The country has suffered significant oil disruptions during the turbulent years, but production has stabilized at more than 1 million barrels per day, still well below the 1.6 million barrels per day produced before the 2011 uprising. Haftar’s control over the fields is precarious. The recognized government says it intends to retake them. In December, loyal fighters briefly recovered the El-Feel camp in the south, causing a temporary closure of operations.

To contact the journalist on this story: Samer Khalil Al-Atrush in Cairo at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lin Noueihed at [email protected], Grant Clark, Mark Williams

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