Tripoli, 13 July 2014:
The surprise about the coordinated attack by allegedly no less than six so-called Islamist militias on the so-called liberal Zintani led militias based in airport road and at the airport, is that there was a meeting, and it was thought an agreement, yesterday to specifically prevent any such attack from happening.
Details at this early stage are still not totally clear. However, we can attempt to piece together an initial overview of the events leading to the dawn attack on airport road.
According to a report from Zintan local council, an expanded meeting was held yesterday including all the militias based within Tripoli, Islamist and liberal, as well as militia from surrounding towns and cities to Tripoli, including Misrata.
The meeting included Zintan military council (liberals), Misrata military council (Islamists), the Central Shield brigade (Islamists), the Western Shield brigade (Islamists), the Libya Revolutionary Operations Room (LROR, Islamists), the Qaqaa brigade (liberal), the Sawaiq brigade (liberal), and the Madani Brigade (liberal).
During this meeting, it was agreed that measures to calm the situation down would be taken by all in order to prevent the city and country from slipping into a state of civil war. It was also apparently agreed that military equipment and militias would be reduced to the four main barracks in Tripoli, clearing and consolidating the smaller and less controllable militias scattered all over Tripoli.
However, hours after this meeting ended, it seems that a coordinated attack on airport road and the airport started. The liberal militias feel very aggrieved at the hypocrisy and deceitfulness of the Islamists brigades and their leadership for going back on yesterday’s agreement.
In a statement yesterday, the liberal brigades said whilst they will not start any military action, they will hit back with full force at any power that attacks them. It will be interesting to see if they carry out this threat and use their considerable force in a protracted city-wide chase of the Islamist militias, or whether the government and GNC will be able to persuade them to restrain themselves.
No doubt there will be a post mortem as to who did what to whom as the variously allied media outlets start the blame game. The social media networks have already started the process.
Meanwhile, If the liberal militias do not lose any turf as a result of today’s skirmishes, they may deem it politically advantageous to refrain from counter attacking and be satisfied with portraying themselves as the aggrieved victim and portraying the Islamists as the unpatriotic aggressors.
It is not clear if the Islamists had all along planned to lure the liberal militias into a false sense of security or whether discipline broke down amongst the disparate militias, and some militias started an attack unilaterally. Already the main Shield have denied taking part in the attack, with fingers pointing specifically at one or two minor brigades. Definitely, if all the alleged brigades had taken part in a full frontal attack, you would expect more damage, casualties and victims.
Analysts are surprised by the blatant attack by the Islamist militias in view of yesterday’s attempted reconciliation meeting to calm all sides down. Others see that an attack was always on the card.
Yesterday, Abdul Raouf Kara, head of the officially recognized Special Deterrent Force (Nawasy brigade) announced for the third time in two years that he was handing over the Military and civilian Maetiga airport to the state.
Nawasy brigade is on paper part of the state and is supposed to specialize in anti criminal and anti drugs enforcement. However, no doubt having prior knowledge of today’s dawn attack, in a statement yesterday, Kara called upon all his members to confine themselves to barracks and not participate in the political infighting.
This announcement was also followed by social media news that Tripoli airport was to be handed over by its Zintani controllers today to the state. In view of this alleged agreement, it is therefore surprising why the airport was attacked by Islamist brigades.
Some see today’s military action as the last desperate moves and as the last chance for Islamists to gain some power and turf before the House of Representatives (HR) convenes, fearing a loss of power and leverage due to their perceived poor performance in the elections. Having lost through the ballot box, it is thought that they wish to hold on to some leverage through their militias.
The Islamists charade of wishing to clear Tripoli of all militias is seen as no more than a fig leaf to fulfill their dream to totally control the capital. Some see the attack as an attempted coup against the state and the democratic process. Control of the nation’s main airport is seen as part of that control.
Equally, feeling an inability to pressure the new legislative body if it is indeed transferred to Benghazi, the Islamists are keen to keep the HR in Tripoli. Failing that, they wish to cause chaos and confusion, preventing the handover, or weakening the body. Whereas, on the other hand, their liberal opponents, the Qaqaa and Sawaiq brigades have announced their support for housing the HR in Benghazi.
Others also see it as a pre-emptive move in Tripoli by the Islamist coalition against the Dignity operation led by Hafter, which is expected or feared to spread to the west of Libya.
It is not clear if the Islamist militias can achieve a military victory despite their numerical advantage as the Qaqaa and Sawaiq brigades are deemed to be better trained having in them a large number of the well trained former members of the top Qaddafi brigades.
Ultimately, since both sides are recognized by the state as official troops, observers think that today’s dawn attack on airport road and the airport is no more than a turf war and a power struggle, maneuvering and positioning prior to the House of Representatives convening. There is a fear by both sides, but more by the Islamists than the liberals, of the unknown regarding the new power dynamics that will come within the newly elected HR. [/restrict]