Analysis: as Libya stands on the brink of more civil war, a vast number of domestic and international players have an interest in what happens next

Blessed with one of the biggest and premium quality oil reserves in the world, Libya stands at the brink of another bout of civil war. This can only have deadly consequences for 6.4 million Libyans and exacerbate Europe's growing refugee crisis. The latest round of bloodshed will be the result of infighting between two major warring sides who almost 9 years ago fought together in a NATO-backed campaign to overthrow the Gaddafi regime.

On the one hand is the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), which is led by Fayez Al Sarraj, a trained architect who comes from a wealthy and prominent Libyan family. His father Mustafa Al Sarraj was a member of parliament and cabinet minister under Libya’s deposed King Idriss.

On the other hand is the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is led by General Khalifa Haftar, a former army officer who participated in a bloodless coup that ousted King Idris in 1969 and brought Gaddafi to power. Haftar had a falling out with Gaddafi in 1987 during the Libya-Chad war and was captured by the Chadian military. He later joined the CIA-sponsored anti-Gaddafi opposition after seeking asylum in the United States.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, journalist and researcher Mary Fitzgerald reports on the Libyan conflict and the role of Khalifa Haftar

GNA is a political umbrella which is protected by an array of armed militias, including Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Islamists. Powerful GNA-allied militias include Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, Abu Salim Central Security Forces, Al Nawasi Batallion, and Bab Tajoura Brigade – collectively known as the "Tripoli Protection Force". Other powerful militias supporting the GNA are Special Deterrence Forces, 301 Infantry Battalion, Al Mahgoub Brigade and Al Halbous Brigade from Misrata city, among many other militias from other towns and cities of Libya. GNA-allied militias control roughly 10% of Libya's total area including Tripoli, the capital city.

LNA is the military wing of House of Representatives (HoR) which is based in the eastern city of Tobruk. The HoR is the internationally recognised parliament, which was democratically elected in June 2014 as a replacement of the General National Congress.

It is a military alliance between armed groups from different parts of Libya including powerful militias from towns such as Zintan, Tarhouna, and Sabrata, Madkhali Salafists, and remnants of the former Libyan army that was loyal to Colonel Gaddafi. Around two thirds of Libya is under LNA's control including major cities such as Benghazi, Sirte, Sabha, Zawiya, Derna and Tobruk. The remaining territory in the south of Libya, bordering Algeria, Niger and Chad remains under the control of tribal fighters.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Marian Finucane Show, an interview with Irish Libyan Hussaim Najjair about his "Soldier for a Summer: Story of The Tripoli Brigade" based on his time with the Brigade

The GNA came into existence in accordance with the Skhirat Agreement  which was signed in Morocco in 2015 under the UN auspices. However, disagreement soon broke out between rival political groups over many issues, including the future role of Haftar and holding fresh elections. As a result, both governing bodies have created parallel systems including separate currencies, central banks and oil export mechanisms.

GNA is receiving heavy economic and security aid from Qatar while Turkey is providing military aid. Earlier this month, Turkish parliament approved deployment of its troops to train and equip pro-GNA militia. Reports also suggest Ankara dispatched hundreds of rebels from Syria under its payroll who were already engaged in fighting the Syrian regime and Kurdish forces. GNA is also working with Italy to stem the tide of refugees from Africa after signing a memorandum of understanding in February 2017. Both sides are also involved in joint oil exploration projects.

Meanwhile, LNA receives major economic and military backing from Egypt and the UAE,  including air support which has helped Haftar's army gain the upper hand in the conflict. Reports suggest France and Russia are also supporting the LNA militarily though both countries have denied such claims.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's News At One, Mary Fitzgerald on Libya's looming humanitarian crisis as internal strife has led to people being displaced in Tripoli

The conflict in Libya became more complex internationally after Turkey signed an accord with GNA in November 2019. This created an exclusive economic zone from Turkey's southern Mediterranean shore to Libya's northeast coast, essentially bypassing Greece's maritime waters in eastern Mediterranean Sea. It's a region which potentially contains gas reserves of around 3 trillion cubic metres and 1.7 billion barrels of crude oil, worth billions of dollars.

Turkey and Greece are locked in dispute over Cyprus and the islands in the Aegean Sea for decades. Turkish forces invaded and occupied northern part of Cyprus in 1974 after a brief Greek-Cypriot coup. Turkey's maritime deal with the GNA is seen as a move to sabotage a joint Cyprus-Greece-Israel-Egypt project to establish a $7-9 billion gas pipeline which would run from Israeli and Greek-Cypriot waters to the Greek island of Crete, onto the Greek mainland and into Europe's gas network via Italy. The proposed project would have to cross the self-proclaimed Turkey-Libya economic zone which is disputed by Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, and Israel.

Hard-pressed initiatives taken by the EU and Russia to broker a ceasefire between GNA and LNA have so far failed due to deep-rooted differences between both warring factions. Many analysts believe Haftar prefers a military resolution to the conflict over diplomatic settlement as his forces are knocking on the doors of Tripoli and recently wrestled Sirte, a Gaddafi stronghold, from the hands of pro-GNA militias. If Haftar's offensive goes ahead, it is certain to claim the lives of hundreds of civilians while displacing thousands of others.

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From RTÉ Archives, extract from Una Claffey's 1986 Today Tonight interview with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi 

Former Libyan dictator Gaddafi insisted all his life that real power lies in the hands of his people while he ws just the "brother guide of the revolution". But it was Gaddafi who possessed absolute control over the nation. After gaining power through a NATO-backed campaign in 2011, the leaders and members of armed militias, known as the "revolutionaries" by many Libyan people, have themselves become who they hated most: one Muammar Gaddafi.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ