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Promotions in Libya
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 04 - 03 - 2015

The Libyan House of Representatives approved the promotion of General Khalifa Hiftar to commander-in-chief of the armed forces on Monday. Observers say this will strengthen Hiftar's grip in eastern Libyan and enhance his prospects of becoming the head of a future government.
The step is seen as part of a process of rehabilitating a number of senior officials from the Gaddafi era. The aim is to bolster diplomatic attempts to convince the international community to support the Libyan army and lift the arms embargo on it.
The House of Representatives created the post of commander-in-chief, the equivalent of minister of defence, last week and then appointed Hiftar to fill it despite the objections of younger MPs, particularly from Tripoli, and representatives of the National Forces Alliance (NFA), the largest parliamentary bloc.
Proponents of the federalist movement in parliament wavered in supporting the move. Not only do they share the apprehensions of the NFA and younger MPs regarding Hiftar's ambitions, they also fear that those ambitions conflict with their movement, which seeks to give the Cyrenaica region in eastern Libya greater autonomy.
Military officials in eastern Libya told the Weekly that Hiftar faces strong competition from Faraj Al-Bareasi, commander of the defence zone in Cyrenaica, who has been coordinating with military officials in western Libya, within the framework of military operations there.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Al-Bareasi met last week with military figures from western Libya, including Mohamed Sawan, who commanded the volunteer corps from Sabrata and Sarman during the Gaddafi era; Ali Ghadban, from Al-Ojeilat; Emad Al-Raqiei; and Ramadan Arhouma, a civilian who once served as a leader in the revolutionary committees movement.
According to the sources, the participants discussed creating a military operations room for the coastal cities west of Tripoli and how it should be managed. Measures of this sort, they believe, will bolster their capacity to confront the forces of Libya Dawn, which seized control of the area in August after driving out a coalition of tribal militias, and eventually regain control over the capital.
The sources said that Al-Bareasi has agreed with other participants that Mohamed Sawan should command the operations room. He has also agreed to arrange a meeting between the army commanders from the western zone and Chief of General Staff Abdel-Razeq Al-Nazouri, recently appointed to the post by the parliament in Tobruk, seeing this as a clear indication of a major gap between the eastern and western sectors of the Libyan army.
Libyan army officers from the west complain that commanders from the east have garnered senior military posts, especially after the resolutions issued by the House of Representatives in Tobruk.
It appears that army commanders in the east are studying the dismissal of Al-Nazouri as chief of general staff. Appointing Al-Bareasi, Hiftar's strongest rival in his place, may be an attempt to contain Al-Bareasi's growing ambitions.
Al-Bareasi has been campaigning to expand his influence, with support from NFA leader Mahmoud Jibril, who is backed by the UAE, and Rizq Ihnish, the leader of the federalist bloc, both of whom are wary of Hiftar's rising power.
Hiftar appears to be having difficulties with the commanders of the seven combat forces under his command in Benghazi, some of whom have been grumbling about the lack of effective coordination in the fight against the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR) and other extremists such as Ansar Al-Sharia and groups claiming affiliation with the Islamic State (IS) group.
Most of these are ensconced in the Leithi district, a southern suburb of Benghazi known to be one of the main strongholds of Islamist extremists in Libya.
As part of its attempts to win the support of the West, particularly with regard to lifting the arms embargo, the parliament in Tobruk has been considering soliciting support from officials from the Gaddafi era, especially those who served in diplomatic capacities during the last decade of Gaddafi's rule.
Observers say that the coming days will bring significant changes to the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni, particularly with regard to key portfolios like defence, the interior, the economy and security and intelligence.
They also expect rotations in key diplomatic missions, most notably in the Libyan embassies in Washington, London, Rome and Moscow, as well as in Cairo and Abu Dhabi.
Among the candidates being considered for reinstatement is the former ambassador to the US during the Gaddafi era, Ali Al-Ujali, one official told the Weekly. Al-Ujali would probably resume his previous post, filled by Wafa Bouqaiqis two months ago.
The source said that the reason for Bouqaiqis's dismissal was her friendship with US Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones, believed by the Tobruk parliament and Al-Thinni government to be obstructing the lifting of the UN arms embargo on the Libyan army.
According to this same source, another candidate with prospects for a comeback is Abdel-Rahman Shalqam, who served as Libya's permanent representative to the Security Council and foreign minister during the Gaddafi era and was instrumental in bringing about the thaw in relations between the Gaddafi regime and the West.
The government in the east has become acutely aware of its shortage of effective diplomatic leaders, in view of the lack of expertise and competence among recent appointees.
However, a lack of qualifications was not behind Al-Thinni's dismissal of Interior Minister Omar Al-Sanki, who hails from Misrata. Instead, this was connected to a leaked report of how forces under the command of Hiftar intercepted Al-Thinni's convoy on its way from Benghazi airport into the city in January.
Perhaps the final straw came with the scathing criticisms of Hiftar and Operation Dignity made by the former interior minister in an interview with Radio Monte Carlo in late January. Following the remarks, MP Tareq Saqr Al-Jurushi, the son of General Al-Jurushi, commander of the airforce and Hiftar's right-hand man, vowed to have Al-Sanki dismissed.
These developments should not be seen in isolation from UN efforts to broker a dialogue between the Libyan factions.
Last week, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) held urgent consultations to ensure a resumption of the dialogue which was to have met in Morocco last week but was postponed after the House of Representatives rejected a proposal for a national unity government submitted by UNSMIL chief and UN special envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon.
Following the decision, the Tobruk parliament recalled its delegation from Tunisia, from where it was about to set off to Morocco. Some members of the delegation voiced disappointment with the decision, which they maintained obstructed the dialogue and hampered a halt to hostilities and the restoration of calm.
UNSMIL urged the parties not to forfeit the opportunity for dialogue and called on them to renew their commitment to a peaceful settlement to the Libyan crisis. It also affirmed its own commitment to safeguarding the unity of Libya and sponsoring the dialogue.
On Monday evening, Leon held talks in Tripoli in response to a request from the General National Congress (GNC), which asked him to clarify the reasons for the postponement and his assessment of the future of the dialogue.
Prior to this, an UNSMIL delegation met on Thursday in Zuwara with the head of the joint operations room, the heads of the regional operations rooms and field commanders from the Libya Dawn and the Sunrise operations.
“The talks at Zuwara came within the framework of preparatory security discussions, a parallel process that supports the main political dialogue track,” said an UNSMIL statement on Sunday, adding that participants had discussed “ways to move forward on ceasefire proposals in support of the UN-facilitated political dialogue.”
The statement said that “participants agreed on the principle of a ceasefire and underlined the need to end the bloodshed in Libya and engage in dialogue” and that they had “stressed that a peaceful solution through dialogue is the only way out of the crisis.”
The meeting in Zuwara coincided with an announcement by Bashir Bouzufeira, commander of the border zone in Ajdabiya, of a meeting to be held in Al-Sadra between the parties to the conflict.
The meeting will be attended by military leaders and members of the municipal councils in Al-Sadra and Misrata and will try to reach a ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of combatant forces from all fronts, in order to create an environment conducive to a political settlement and to spare further bloodshed, he said.
Misrata is currently communicating with municipal and tribal leaders throughout the country in order to end the hostilities. The Misrata Shura Council and Council of Wisemen have formed two 18-member committees that have begun to approach officials from Zintan and Sirte.


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