Set against the background of events that are unfolding in Ukraine, as well as in the north of Iraq and Gaza, the topic of Libya has faded somewhat. At the same time, in mid-July there was a tremendous explosion of violence which has resulted in a chain reaction of countries closing their diplomatic missions in Tripoli and a mass evacuation of foreigners.
The epicenter of events occurred in the capital of Tripoli, particularly at the International Airport and the surrounding neighborhoods. A group of former rebels from the city of Misurata are attempting to remove the Zintan militias who have ruled here since the autumn of 2011. The sky over the capital was shrouded with a cloud of black smoke from fires raging in storage tanks ignited by rocket fire. Those in the area have to cope with food shortages along with interruptions to services, including electricity and water. According to some reports, the damage from the destructive attacks is estimated at 1.5 billion dollars. While at the airport, no less than 20 civilian airliners were damaged. The number of people killed in Tripoli as a result of the fighting has exceeded 220 and continues to grow.
In the second most important city of Benghazi, the dissident General Hafter is battling pro-Islamic groups with varying degrees of success. Zintan militias and its allies support the actions of the General.
Headlines in the local media and on social networking sites are expressive: “Libyan militias have plunged the country into chaos,” “Our sorrow is our own doing,” “Tripoli falls as it did during the invasion of Hulagu.”
Many are in agreement that the recent exacerbation in scope and ferocity far exceeds the excesses that occurred after the assassination of Gaddafi in October of 2011. According to several European evacuees, witnesses to the previous war, the security situation in Libya is significantly worse than it was at that time.
At the Libya-Tunisia border-crossing large crowds of people gathered. Some foreign citizens were required to wait several days before they were allowed to cross the border. While at the Libyan-Egyptian border crossing, 4 thousands Egyptians are fleeing home daily.
Greece and the United Kingdom have sent vessels in order to assist with the evacuation of foreigners.
The Libyan Red Crescent Society has already sounded the alarm due to an acute shortage of medicine and other medical supplies at hospitals in Tripoli, Zintan and other cities; the country is faced with food shortages for the population and has called for emergency assistance to be delivered to the country.
As in the past, the ongoing violence sends pulsating currents of instability to neighboring countries and to the surrounding region. Six neighboring countries of Libya held a meeting of their foreign ministers in Tunisia in July. The group of six attending the meeting considered measures on how to jointly combat the growing threat of terrorism, ways to stop the flow of illegal weapons and how to pacifying the warring parties.
In contrast to 2011, when poorly organized rebels fought against Gaddafi with the support of NATO, today in a fierce battles former “brothers in arms” are pitted against those who are leading Libya, people from Zintan and Misurata. Having won the war, they, along with other militias, filled the security vacuum that NATO helped create with its missile attacks on Libyan security forces.
Competing groups arising from region, tribal lines developed a taste for the leadership cake of Libya, the largest oil producer in Africa with significant revenue. Their ambition and claims set the tone for events and overshadowed reason to heat the passions of hundreds of fighters who have their fingers on the trigger.
The government, which paid for the armed militias out of its budget, was unable to rein in their troops and calls for restraint were unanswered. The government stated declared it was considering the possibility to ask for the assistance of an international force in order to protect civilians and prevent further chaos.
The situation in Libya increasingly resembles that which is currently occurring in Iraq. Internal processes in both oil-rich countries have been distorted by external forces, in the first case by NATO’s air campaign and in the second, the Anglo-American invasion of 2003.
Thus, in particular, the status quo that had existed in both countries between the various communities and ethnic enclaves was destroyed, resulting in civil strife and discord. For this, the people of these countries have paid and will continue to pay a high price.
Yuri Zina, a leading researcher at MGIMO, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.“