What ‘government’ is West really backing in Libya?

At a summit in Vienna this week, world powers agreed to supply arms to Libya to fight ISIS, and to seek an exemption from the UN arms embargo on the country. But few media accounts are emphasizing that Libya now has three rival governments (not counting ISIS and various militia-controlled enclaves), and the "recognized" one is by far the weakest. Attending the summit was Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). An official statement said: "The GNA is the sole legitimate recipient of international security assistance and is charged with preserving and protecting Libya's resources for the benefit of all its people." (Anadolu Agency, EuroNews) A sobering analysis in the Times of Oman, "Libyan quagmire to inevitably continue," calls the GNA "a 'Potemkin Village' lie of epic proportions," noting that it consists of a handful of men ensconced in a naval base outside Tripoli, controlling no territory and commanding no troops. The closest thing to an army it has is "an assortment of militias of varying shades of extremist" that have announced a tenuous recognition of its authority, mostly in Tripoli and Misrata.

A breakdown of the Libyan players by the European Council on Foreign Relations notes that the GNA's Presidential Council was installed in the Abu Sittah navy base on March 30 under terms of the UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed in December. But this deal was worked out with the participation of few actual Libyans. Most of Tripoli is controlled by the Islamist-led National Salvation Government (NSG), and its de facto armed force, the Libya Dawn militia alliance. The most significant rump force of the Libyan National Army (LNA) is commanded by Khalifa Haftar, who is loyal to the rival government based in Tobruk. The Tobruk regime was the "recognized" government before the GNA was installed, but has refused to recognize the GNA. It is still apparently being backed by Egypt to fight ISIS and other Islamist factions—even as Egypt has now pledged to support the GNA.

Perhaps the best thing the GNA has got going for it is the nominal loyalty (at least) of the Petroleum Facilities Guard. Libya Observer reports that this force has succeeded in taking control of the al-Hariga oil port (under the nominal administration of the Tobruk government), and long-paralyzed crude exports are set to resume. But production is still at a fraction of what it was under Qaddafi, with the National Oil Company itself divided into factions loyal to the Tripoli and Tobruk governments.

ISIS meanwhile, having been driven from Derna not by LNA (which is busier fighting Libya Dawn forces in Benghazi) but by rival jihadists, remains in control of Sirte, where they have been carrying out mass executions of sectors of the populace who refuse to buckle under to their rule. Residents  report public beheadings, corpses hanging from scaffolding, and masked men dragging the recalcitrant from their homes in the middle of the night. ISIS has been in control of the city since February 2015. (Jurist)