GNA advances in Tripoli, UN warns of worsening humanitarian situation

Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive against the GNA forces in Tripoli on April 4. (AFP/File)
Updated 29 April 2019

GNA advances in Tripoli, UN warns of worsening humanitarian situation

  • GNA blocked the route to Salah Al-Deen area
  • The unrest in Libya has already displaced 41,000 individuals

TRIPOLI: Libya’s Government of National Accord advanced into Salah Al-Deen area in Tripoli on Monday, Al-Arabiya reported.

The GNA has blocked the road leading to the area after they reached it.

Meanwhile, a senior UN official has warned that fierce fighting for control of Libya’s capital that has already displaced tens of thousands of people threatens to bring a further worsening of humanitarian conditions.

“As long as the situation continues, even if it just stagnates and continues like this, we can expect to see a continuing deterioration,” UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya Maria do Valle Ribeiro told AFP.

Strongman Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive against Tripoli, the seat of the internationally recognized GNA, on April 4.

“When we see the use of air power, the indiscriminate shelling of densely populated areas, it is very difficult to be optimistic,” do Valle Ribeiro, who is also the deputy UN envoy to Libya, said late Sunday.

She was speaking after air raids by the LNA on Tripoli on Saturday killed four people and wounded 20 others, according to the GNA.

“We continue to call for a respect of civilians, we continue to call for humanitarian pauses and most of all we continue to hope that the situation can return to a more peaceful settlement of the crisis,” she said.

The fighting has killed at least 278 people and wounded more than 1,300, according to a toll released Wednesday by the World Health Organization.

It has also forced 41,000 people to flee combat areas around Tripoli, do Valle Ribeiro said, while many remain trapped and in need of humanitarian assistance.

Among the most vulnerable are about 3,500 migrants and refugees held in detention centers near the combat zone who are at “risk,” the UN official said.

She said that 800 considered most in danger had been evacuated, after the UN and rights groups said gunmen attacked a detention center south of Tripoli last week.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said several migrants and refugees were shot and wounded in the attack.

Libya has been mired in chaos since the NATO-backed uprising that deposed and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

People smugglers have taken advantage of the lawlessness, ferrying mostly sub-Saharan Africans from Libyan shores to Europe.

According to the International Organization for Migration some 6,000 migrants are held in official detention centers in Libya. Hundreds more are held by armed groups elsewhere in the war-hit country.

On Sunday Pope Francis called for “humanitarian corridors” to be opened to evacuate them.

The UN official also voiced concern over a breakdown in basic services, including electricity and water supplies, and said more relief funds were needed for Libya.

“We appealed for an additional 10.2 million (dollars) which doesn’t cover all that we foresee... but it covers at least the essential response for the first three, four weeks,” she said.

During the first week of fighting, she said, “over a million schoolbooks” that were stored in a warehouse of the ministry of education were destroyed when the compound was hit.

“Symbolically, it says a lot about the impact of such strife and clashes on not just the immediate survival of people but on the future of Tripoli children.”


Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

Updated 17 September 2019

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

  • The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is putting increased pressure on the nation’s armed factions, including Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops and Kurdish guerrillas, in an attempt to tighten his control over them, Iraqi military commanders and analysts said on Monday.

Military commanders have been stripped of some of their most important powers as part of the efforts to prevent them from being drawn into local or regional conflicts.

The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq. 

Each side has dozens of allied armed groups in the country, which has been one of the biggest battlegrounds for the two countries since 2003. 

Attempting to control these armed factions and military leaders is one of the biggest challenges facing the Iraqi government as it works to keep the country out of the conflict.

On Sunday, Abdul Mahdi dissolved the leadership of the joint military operations. 

They will be replaced by a new one, under his chairmanship, that includes representatives of the ministries of defense and interior, the military and security services, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and the Ministry of Peshmerga, which controls the military forces of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

According to the prime minister’s decree, the main tasks of the new command structure are to “lead and manage joint operations at the strategic and operational level,” “repel all internal and external threats and dangers as directed by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” “manage and coordinate the intelligence work of all intelligence and security agencies,” and “coordinate with international bodies that support Iraq in the areas of training and logistical and air support.”

“This decree will significantly and effectively contribute to controlling the activities of all combat troops, not just the PMU,” said a senior military commander, who declined to be named. 

“This will block any troops associated with any local political party, regional or international” in an attempt to ensure troops serve only the government’s goals and the good of the country. 

“This is explicit and unequivocal,” he added.

Since 2003, the political process in Iraq has been based on political power-sharing system. This means that each parliamentary bloc gets a share of top government positions, including the military, proportionate to its number of seats in Parliament. Iran, the US and a number of regional countries secure their interests and ensure influence by supporting Iraqi political factions financially and morally.

This influence has been reflected in the loyalties and performance of the majority of Iraqi officials appointed by local, regional and international parties, including the commanders of combat troops.

To ensure more government control, the decree also stripped the ministers of defense and interior, and leaders of the counterterrorism, intelligence and national security authorities, and the PMU, from appointing, promoting or transferring commanders. This power is now held exclusively by Abdul Mahdi.

“The decree is theoretically positive as it will prevent local, regional and international parties from controlling the commanders,” said another military commander. 

“This means that Abdul Mahdi will be responsible to everyone inside and outside Iraq for the movement of these forces and their activities.

“The question now is whether Abdul Mahdi will actually be able to implement these instructions or will it be, like others, just ink on paper?”

The PMU is a government umbrella organization established by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki in June 2014 to encompass the armed factions and volunteers who fought Daesh alongside the Iraqi government. Iranian-backed factions such as Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah represent the backbone of the forces.

The US, one of Iraq’s most important allies in the region and the world, believes Iran is using its influence within the PMU to destabilize and threaten Iraq and the region. Abdul Mahdi is under huge external and internal pressure to abolish the PMU and demobilize its fighters, who do not report or answer to the Iraqi government.

The prime minister aims to ease tensions between the playmakers in Iraq, especially the US and Iran, by preventing their allies from clashing on the ground or striking against each other’s interests.

“Abdul Mahdi seeks to satisfy Washington and reassure them that the (armed) factions of the PMU will not move against the will of the Iraqi government,” said Abdullwahid Tuama, an Iraqi analyst.

The prime minister is attempting a tricky balancing act by aiming to protect the PMU, satisfy the Iranians and prove to the Americans that no one is outside the authority of the state, he added.