Libya’s chaos continues to feed extremist threat

A picture taken on December 25, 2018 shows security officers at the scene of an attack outside the Libyan foreign ministry headquarters in the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
Updated 27 December 2018
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Libya’s chaos continues to feed extremist threat

  • The last attack claimed by Daesh targeted Tripoli’s foreign ministry on Tuesday, killing three and causing major damage to one of the capital’s supposedly most secure buildings
  • Daesh has “benefited from divisions” in the aftermath of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime falling in 2011

TRIPOLI: Two years after the Daesh group lost the Libyan city of Sirte — its last stronghold in the country — the extremists continues to launch attacks, including in the heart of the capital, profiting from government weakness and general chaos.
The last attack claimed by Daesh targeted Tripoli’s foreign ministry on Tuesday, killing three and causing major damage to one of the capital’s supposedly most secure buildings.
It followed two similar attacks, one in September against the headquarters of the national oil company that killed two and another that hit the electoral commission in Tripoli in May, when 14 were slain.
“Daesh has proved that it is capable of maneuvering and of hitting strongly, two years after the loss of its stronghold in Sirte,” said Libyan political analyst Jalal Al-Fitouri.
Its capabilities persist despite “the hunting down (of its fighters) in the Libyan desert by Libyan armed groups and the US military, which has launched numerous strikes against Daesh in the south,” he said.
Daesh has “benefited from divisions” in the aftermath of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime falling in 2011, Fitouri noted.
Libya is divided between several rival entities, chief among them an internationally-recognized Government of National Accord led by Fayez Al-Sarraj in Tripoli and a parallel administration in the east loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar.
The political chaos and insecurity benefits jihadist groups, which have carried out numerous attacks in recent years, including more than 20 in 2018 against institutions linked to the GNA and Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army.
“In the absence of a monopoly on the use of force in the country, Daesh has been able to consolidate,” said Mohammed Al-Agouri, a professor at Benghazi university in eastern Libya.
“It targets Haftar’s and Sarraj’s forces at the same time — as well as symbolic sites — in order to say ‘We are still here!’ and to recruit new foreign and local sympathizers,” he said.
“If the country’s authorities do not unite... a loss of control (over the situation) could come at any moment,” Agouri warned.
The GNA has sought to improve security in the capital in order to convince Western nations to re-open embassies, which have been shuttered since 2014 due to violence.
But Tuesday’s attack once again exposed the extreme weakness of the GNA, which has repeatedly failed to impose its authority over militias in the capital since it came into being in 2016, despite promising security sector reforms guided by the UN.
These reforms — announced after deadly clashes in September between rival groups in and around Tripoli — seek to reduce the influence of militias whose tentacles extend throughout the capital and its state institutions.
Tuesday’s attack against the foreign ministry risks extinguishing the GNA’s hopes.
“The security situation appears to be good, but in reality it is not,” GNA interior minister Fathi Bash Agha admitted to reporters several hours after the attack.
He recognized that the promised reforms have not been implemented.
He also implicitly accused some armed groups of not obeying orders, and acknowledged the GNA’s weakness in the face of supposedly loyal militias.
“The security chaos that persists creates fertile ground for Daesh,” said Agha.
He spoke of his frustration over the lack of resources available to his ministry, including arms.
The GNA on Tuesday renewed a call for a UN arms embargo imposed on the country since 2011 to be eased, “in order to bolster the security situation and fight terrorism.”
But analysts are dubious about this logic.
“The international community will not allow Libya to import arms, because the government is weak in dealing with the militias,” said Fayrouz Al-Dali, a political science professor in Tripoli.
“The fears of seeing these arms finding their way into bad hands persists,” she warned.


Iraq lifts nearly 30 km of blast walls from Baghdad: official

Updated 31 min 55 sec ago
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Iraq lifts nearly 30 km of blast walls from Baghdad: official

BAGHDAD: Iraqi authorities have removed nearly 30 kilometers of concrete blast walls across Baghdad in the last six months, mostly around the capital’s high-security Green Zone, a senior official told AFP.
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, T-walls — thick barriers about six meters tall and one meter wide — have surrounded potential targets of car bombs or other attacks.
When premier Adel Abdel Mahdi came to power last year, he promised to remove barriers, checkpoints and other security measures to make Baghdad easier to navigate.
“Over the last six months, we removed 18,000 T-walls in Baghdad, including 14,000 in the Green Zone alone,” said Staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Al-Bayati, the PM’s top military adviser.
Hundreds of the security checkpoints that contributed to Baghdad’s notorious traffic jams have also been removed.
And according to the Baghdad municipality, 600 streets that had been closed off to public access have been opened in the last six months.
Among them are key routes crossing through Baghdad’s Green Zone, the enclave where government buildings, UN agencies and embassies including the US and UK missions are based.
It was long inaccessible to most Iraqis until an order from Abdel Mahdi last year, and families can now be seen picking their way across its manicured parks for sunset pictures.
Iraq is living a rare period of calm after consecutive decades of violence, which for Baghdad peaked during the sectarian battles from 2006 to 2008.
It was followed, in 2014, by Daesh’s sweep across a third of the country and a three-year battle to oust the militants from their urban strongholds.
The group still wages hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi security forces and government targets, and Baghdad’s authorities are on high alert.
Thousands of the removed T-walls have been placed on Baghdad’s outskirts to prevent infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells, according to Bayati.