Libya's rogue general denies bid to oust prime minister

Libya's rogue general denies bid to oust prime minister
Analysis: General Khalifa Haftar took to Twitter to deny blocking Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani's convoy, as reports emerge of dissent within the ranks of Operation Dignity.
4 min read
09 February, 2015
Operation Dignity's military operations are proceeding apace [AFP]

A leading Libyan military commander has denied he ordered the prime minister's convoy to be blocked late last week.

General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army and operating with the authority of the internationally recognised parliament in Tobruk, tweeted his denial after Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani's visit to Benghazi.

Mohammad al-Hijazi, the spokesman for Operation Dignity, also rejected reports that Haftar was subjected to an assassination attempt on Wednesday.

The reports of an attempt on Haftar's life come at a time when his opponents are talking about divisions and disputes in the leadership of Operation Dignity, and possible attempts to overthrow the rogue general.

Ousting him from the army leadership would exclude Haftar from any government that might emerge under the UN-sponsored national dialogue talks.

   What's going on in Libya?

The General National Congress was the Islamist-led elected body ruling Libya for two years following Gaddafi's ousting and death. After its 18-month deadline to form a new constitution passed in January 2014, the body unilaterally resolved to extend its mandate.

General Khalifa Haftar, a senior figure in the forces that toppled Gaddafi, called on the GNC to disband. In May, Haftar led troops against Islamist militias in Benghazi and the GNC in Tripoli in an offensive named Operation Dignity.

Amid the chaos, an election was held to form the House of Representatives, which took power from the GNC in August. With rival militias ruling Libya's streets, the election turnout was just 18 percent. Islamist militias then launched Operation Libya Dawn to fight Haftar's troops.

With the lack of security in the capital, the House of Representatives hired a Greek car ferry harboured in the eastern city of Tobruk as a temporary legislature.

In late August, a group of GNC members reconvened in Tripoli and claimed legislative authority over the country, effectively replacing the House of Representatives as Libya's parliament. The Tobruk-based House of Representatives remains the internationally recognised government, though its actual authority on the ground in Libya is limited.

Libya's Supreme Court, based in Islamist-held Tripoli, ruled in November that the formation of the House of Representatives was unconstitutional, legally dissolving the Tobruk-based legislature and nullifying its decisions.

The Tobruk-based parliament refused to accept the court's ruling, saying it was made "at gunpoint".

Libya remains torn between the rival parliaments and the heavily armed militias that support each. Allegiances between the militias change frequently, which only adds to the instability, violence and danger faced by ordinary Libyan citizens.

Reuters quoted a senior official who accompanied Thani on the visit to Benghazi.

He said the convoy was stopped by an armed group of 70 soldiers as they attempted to leave the city of al-Maraj, east Benghazi - Haftar's stronghold.

Analysts have not ruled out the possibility that Haftar's patience had run out, and that this was part of an attempt to seize complete control over the east of Libya - almost all regions of which are under his control.

Darna eludes Haftar's reach, and is held by armed Islamist groups.

Video footage has emerged and spread via social media showing a leader of the Madkhili Salafi group in Libya, Mohammed al-Awami, a Haftar supporter, threatening the Libyan House of Representatives in Tobruk with a coup if it did not hand over complete control to a new military council headed by Haftar.

The video footage sheds light on the nature of the fractious relationship between Haftar and those, including the prime minister, who endorsed Operation Dignity when it was launched on May 16, 2014.

Haftar's supporters are blaming the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya's east on Thani's government, absolving Haftar of responsibility.

According to analysts, after its success in cancelling the Political Isolation Law, the National Forces Alliance within the Tobruk-based parliament is planning to put forward Libya's former UN representative, Abdul Rahman Shalgam, as a candidate for the presidency of a future National Consensus government.

Haftar reportedly fears the ongoing talks will exclude him from decision-making circles.

Some analysts have said Haftar may change tack after tribal and regional divisions emerged over supporting Operation Dignity.

     Haftar reportedly fears the ongoing talks will exclude him from decision-making circles.

He is also said to be facing opponents from within his own armed group.

Haftar's second-most important stronghold, after al-Maraj in east Libya, is al-Bayda - home to the al-Barasi tribe.

Some tribal leaders are undestood to want Colonel Faraj al-Barasi, removed by Haftar from the leadership of a local defensive zone, to be reinstated.

Haftar accused Barasi of stealing approximately one million dinars and of demolishing and burning houses belonging to Haftar's opponents - killing them without receiving the orders to do so.

However, while reports have emerged of divisions within Operation Dignity, its military operations are continuing unimpeded and do not appear to have yet been affected by any internal disputes.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.