NewsNorth AfricaIS rebels swoop on a divided Libyan state


Posted on Friday, 29 January 2016 15:42

IS rebels swoop on a divided Libyan state

The worsening confrontation in Libya is being fought militarily, politically and commercially, and will have consequences far beyond the country's borders in 2016.

Islamic state (IS) militants have been exploiting the crisis, with western intelligence officials reporting the organization is building up quickly in Libya.

Already, the battle between the internationally recog­nised government in Tobruk and the General National Congress coalition in Tripoli – under the control of sundry Islamist factions – has effectively partitioned the country.

The Tobruk government has reached an agreement with the United Arab Emirates to sell Libyan oil independently of Tripoli, and the two sides are battl­ing for control of the country's sovereign wealth fund, with well over $100bn at stake.

More dissident groups have emerged in recent months, complicating the work of the United Nations team trying to negotiate a power­sharing deal.

So far, five deadlines for a political agreement have passed without any sub­stantial progress. Without a deal, divisions between the western region of Tripolitania and the east's Cyrenaica are deepening.

Meanwhile, political factions in the south are choosing alliances on an ad hoc basis.

Several intelligence reports suggest that IS may be moving its key people by sea to the coastal city of Sirte in Tripolitania as Western military forces step up their bombing of its main base of Raqqa in Syria.

The Iraq­ and Syria­based militia has a working relationship of sorts with some Islamist groups in the Tripoli government.

By mid ­November, IS was reckoned to have at least 2,000 fighters in Libya, most of whom were in the east nearer to the border with Egypt. Some of the group's combatants appear to be targeting Adjabiya, a strategic city on the route between some of the main oil fields and export terminals.

Not only will the group's growing strength in Libya al­ low it to intensify operations in North Africa, but it will position it to push further south into the Sahel.

There, it could co­opt the jihadist groups already threatening security in Mali, Niger and Mauritania. ●

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