Libya: The oil war canceled for the time being

Libya: The oil war canceled for the time being

After more than 16 months of war, Libya’s conflicting parties have announced a ceasefire. Fayez Serraj, Prime Minister of the unity government in the capital Tripoli in the west of the country, proposed on Friday that the fighting against the troops of his rival Khalifa Haftar in the east would end in March 2021.

Field Marshal Haftar left the announcement of the so far only oral agreement to the speaker of the parliament that had fled to eastern Libya, Aguila Saleh. Saleh and Haftar represent the eastern Libyan province of Cyreneica, in which the majority of Libyan oil wells and production facilities are located.

From Cyreneika’s capital Benghazi, Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) advanced to Tripoli in the spring of 2019 and bombarded and besieged the two-million metropolis for months without being able to conquer it. This year, the LNA pushed back massive military aid from Turkey from western Libya.

For two months now, eastern and western Libyan units have been facing each other near Muammar Gaddafi’s former hometown of Sirte. A battle for Sirte and the oil fields would seriously damage Libya’s only source of income, the oil and gas industry.

That would not be in the interests of the foreign partners: Qatar and Turkey on the government side, Russia, the Emirates, Egypt and France on the Haftar side are hoping for lucrative contracts in post-war Libya.

Political observers see the armistice as a Turkish-Russian rational decision. Haftar’s alliance of Libyan soldiers, Sudanese mercenaries and specialists from the Russian security company Wagner, Sirte and the Jufra military airport, hold two strategically important locations for the control of the so-called oil crescent. A dozen Russian Mig-29 fighter jets are stationed in Jufra.

For its part, the Turkish Air Force took over Watia Airport, west of Tripoli, in July. The Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdoğan recently threatened a massive attack by the Turkish air force on Haftar’s command center.

Parliamentary President Aguila Saleh sold the ceasefire declarations, which had been separately announced in Benghazi and Tripoli, as the end of foreign interference in Libya. “The danger of a major intervention is now averted,” said the 78-year-old in front of Libyan journalists, referring to a Turkish intervention in Cyreneica. The government’s allies in Tripoli – Qatar and Turkey – were noticeably reluctant to make official statements over the weekend.

The main reason for the conflicts since the Libyan Revolution in 2011 remains unsolved. In Cyreneica and the southern province of Fezzan, many social groups do not agree with the distribution of the oil income, which the institutions in Tripoli share among themselves. Militias from Cyreneica have been blocking oil pipelines and production facilities for months.

The failure of the war over Sirte now leads to the first rifts in the two Eastern and Western Libyan alliances. Citizens of the city of Zauwia near Tripoli protested with burning road blockades against the water and power outages in western Libya that sometimes lasted days; the commander of the Serraj units for central Libya demanded the withdrawal of Haftar’s army from Sirte.
A power struggle is smoldering in Benghazi between the parliament elected in 2012 and Haftar’s military leadership – Haftar tried to overthrow MPs in June after President Saleh proposed a dialogue with the government in Tripoli.

The armistice will therefore only hold with international support. “This will not work without international surveillance,” says Wael Alushaibi, an analyst for the Tobruk parliament. “A race with the warmongers for peace in Libya has begun, the outcome is open.”

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