Score Settling in Tripoli Intensifies

Forces loyal to the United Nations- backed Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj attacked the base of the rival General National Congress (GNC) at the Rixos Hotel, the headquarters of the Libyan High Council of State in Tripoli on March 15. The fighting originated from a dispute between pro-GNA and pro-GNC militias over control of a bank and spread among the western districts of the capital, said Al Jazeera. In response to the fighting, the leader of the GNC, Khalifa al-Ghawil, said, “our National Salvation Government withdrew from its offices in Tripoli to stop the bloodshed.” It is rumored that al-Ghawil was injured in the fighting and fled to his home city of Misrata. A brief ceasefire brokered by the GNA’s Presidency Council between militias supporting the different administrations was signed earlier in the evening in the original GNA headquarters at Bu Sitta Naval Base; however, sporadic clashes have continued as some militias reject the agreement, said Libya Herald.

The GNA is the result of the UN- brokered Libyan Political Agreement which attempts to end Libya’s governing crisis that has existed since the 2011 Arab Spring ousted dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Under the agreement, the rival administrations of the western-based General National Congress (GNC) and the eastern House of Representatives (HoR) would merge into a Council of Deputies to act as the country’s new legislature, said Al Jazeera. The executive body is a regionalist Presidential Council (PC) led by Fayez al-Sarraj, which presides over the GNA.

After being signed in 2015 and approved by the UN Security Council, the GNC rejected the political agreement and refused to transfer power to the PC. After threatening to shoot down al-Sarraj’s plane upon its arrival in Tripoli, al-Sarraj and the PC with the assistance of the Libyan Navy sailed from Tunisia to Bu Sitta port in March 2016, said Press TV. Many militias agreed to administer the UN- backed agreement, forcing al-Ghawil and his allies to flee the government ministries in Tripoli to their home in Misrata, reported Libya Herald. The GNC subsequently dissolved.

Peace did not last in Tripoli. Attempts to institutionalize the militias into a Presidential Guard found little success, while al-Ghawil and his allies in Tripoli and Misrata re-organized. In October 2016, al-Ghawil’s forces attempted a coup against al-Sarraj and seized the Rixos Hotel from the GNA, where he declared himself prime minister of the new GNC, resulting in three administrations competing for power in Libya.

This recent violence signals an attempt by the GNA to rid itself of the perennial problem of al-Ghawil; however, al-Ghawil has powerful tribal militia backers in Misrata that have become battle-hardened from their recent victory over ISIS in neighboring Sirte. If Misratan forces continue supporting al-Ghawil and move on Tripoli to reinforce him, the current political arrangement in Libya may become obsolete.