This week saw the latest violence through militia over-reaction resulting in large-scale deaths and injuries, this time in Tripoli and involving the Misrata Brigade when on 15th November they opened fire on demonstrators protesting their presence in the Ghargour district of the city. 43 were killed and a further 460 were wounded in this latest instance of uncontrolled militia action. The violence then spilled over into the weekend with further clashes this time between the Misratans and an opposing militia. The clashes were in Tajoura to the east of the city as opposing militiamen fought to prevent the Misratans from re-entering the city and reinforcing their existing base near the airport where elements have remained holed up. It is believed that a further 3 were killed and 45 wounded in this latest spate of fighting. Sunday evening also saw the targeted murder of the head of the military intelligence in Ajilat, Yousef Al-Atrash. And then yesterday the head of the Joint Security Room in Benghazi, Colonel Abdullah Al-Saiti’s convoy was hit in a car bomb as he made his way to work. The device exploded as the convoy passed in the Magoury district of the city. The blast killed one of his bodyguards and wounded another.
The latest clashes in Tripoli reflect the complex alliances and continuing struggle for power between opposing factions who all played their part in overthrowing Gaddafi in the Revolution but have fractured in its aftermath as they pursue their own interests. In basic terms the major opposing militia blocs include the Misratans, who had been authorised with others to contribute to the security architecture of the capital as part of the Libya Shields, a collection of groups centred upon Zawya and Misrata and allied to the Supreme Security Committee, which acts as a de facto police force in Tripoli; and the Zintanis, who comprise the 18,000 strong Qaqaa militia. The Qaqaa opposes the Libya Shields and SSC, who they claim are trying to impose an overly Islamist agenda on Libya. The pernicious influence of the militias extends across Libyan government and its key ministries particularly Defence, Interior and Justice.
The demonstration on Friday appeared peaceful and was being conducted by local people fed up with the predatory attentions of the Misratans. It is believed that a shot was fired to which the Misratans reacted by opening wholesale fire on the demonstrators and causing the fatalities and injuries. The Misratans have since been banned from Tripoli and pulled out by the Misrata local council and council of elders. Once again the Prime Minister, Grand Mufti and other key figures have condemned the actions of the militias but it is not clear what the path forward is unless it is to be more of the same as we have now seen in both Benghazi and Tripoli. It is difficult to see where the necessary reconciliation is going to come from and who holds sufficient influence and sway across Libyan society to make it happen and bring the parties to the table. The future in the near term does not look positive and maybe it is time for the international community to accept that Libya cannot achieve the breakthrough in stability and institution building on its own. Whilst it has made lots of offers of support in terms of capacity building it is clear that without some semblance of stability and order little can realistically be achieved. Their engagement must become better integrated, sustained and meaningful if the corner is to be turned. It has been a sad week for Libya that is becoming depressingly all too-frequent.