Renewed clashes between rival armed groups in Tripoli have plunged Libya in yet deeper chaos, casting serious doubt as to whether the war-wracked country is ready to hold planned elections later this year.
On August 27, fierce fighting erupted in the capital’s southern districts after the Seventh Brigade, an armed group based in Tarhouna, 65km southeast of Tripoli, launched a surprise offensive against rival militias.
At least 39 people have been killed so far, including 18 civilians in gun battles and indiscriminate shelling hitting densely populated areas. Hundreds more were wounded.
A truce was reached on August 28 but clashes resumed shortly after, forcing authorities to close Tripoli’s only functioning airport.
The Seventh Brigade has since assumed control of the airport.The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli declared a state of emergency on Sunday, saying in a statement it was necessary to “protect and secure civilians, public and private possessions and vital institutions”.
Divisions along regional, tribal and linguistic lines have complicated the North African country’s transition to democracy since the ouster of longstanding leader Muammar Gaddafi nearly seven years ago.
Arms groups now clashing in and around the capital played an integral part in the NATO-backed mission to topple Gaddafi.Successive governments’ failure to integrate these militias into the formal security structure has led to some groups strengthening their position in the capital – and elsewhere – where they control oil terminals, airports, military barracks and other crucial infrastructure. The existence of two rival legislatures – the internationally recognised GNA and the eastern based House of Representatives (HOR) – each with its own central bank and national oil company, highlights another challenge in the country’s plight to enact the necessary reforms and, ultimately hold elections.
In May, Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj of the GNA and General Khalifa Haftar of the self-styled Libyan National Army – who control much of eastern Libya – met in Paris and agreed on a timeline to hold nation-wide polls by the end of the year. With a September 16 deadline to establish a constitutional and legal basis for elections looming, Al Jazeera takes a look at the different groups vying for power and the prospects for an election this year. The Seventh Brigade, otherwise known as the Kanyat – named after three brothers who hail from Tarhouna – are the only armed group to control an entire town. The group’s stated aim in the latest surge of violence is to “cleanse Tripoli of corrupt militias […] who use their influence to get bank credits worth millions of dollars while ordinary people sleep outside banks to get a few dinars”.