By Janet Ekstract
ISTANBUL (TURKISH JOURNAL) – Libya and its ongoing conflict is no match for the faint-hearted. Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) with Turkey’s support has been able to turn the tide in the long-running conflict that has seen renegade warlord Khalifa Haftar wreak havoc and destruction on numerous infrastructure and Libya’s oil reserves as well as extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and mass civilian injuries as well as deaths from Haftar militia.
Turkey is not having any of what Haftar is dishing out and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made that quite clear. Cavusoglu told the Financial Times that the GNA has a “determination” to resume its offensive against Haftar’s forces if they refuse to retreat from Sirte, a strategic port city and Jufra in central Libya where there is a large air base. Though, it initially appeared that Haftar was at the height of his defeat, the GNA recaptured a host of strategic towns and airports with Turkish military assistance. That victory was short-lived as Haftar presents even more of a threat than ever since his major backers Russia, the UAE and Egypt have brought in extra reinforcements. The current snafu is in Sirte where Haftar’s forces as well his backers are in a showdown over Sirte. The Turkish foreign minister hinted that Turkey could support any offensive explaining that the GNA’s “preconditions” for a ceasefire are “legitimate and reasonable.”
Meanwhile, the current issue is oil and Haftar’s control of it because the warlord announced on Saturday, that he will continue to block oil production until his conditions are accepted. His spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari posted a video message on social media, reading a written statement demanding a share in the revenue earned from oil production. Haftar’s statement included conditions that require a deposit of oil revenues into a bank account located in a ‘third country.’ Those conditions also include establishing a mechanism to distribute proceeds equally with Haftar demanding an audit of the Libyan Central Bank.
Due to these conditions, the situation is escalating because Mismari said if the conditions aren’t met that his forces will move to stop oil production. On July 5, Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) said it has video and sound recordings proving the Al-Sharara oil field is occupied by foreign mercenaries. The oil corporation also indicated that Sidra oil port in eastern Libya has been turned into a military center by those mercenaries since they entered the port several days ago. Since January, Libya’s oil production is practically non-existent after pro-Haftar groups closed oil facilities in eastern parts of Libya to grab resources from the GNA, Libya’s internationally recognized government.
In the meantime, oil production has dropped below 100,000 barrels a day since pro-Haftar groups took control over the oil fields in the last six months, which is resulting in long lines for fuel in Libya, right now. Experts and analysts on Libya surmise that Haftar is using Libya’s oil production as a bargaining chip with an eye toward political negotiations. The NOC cautioned the protracted drop in oil production in the long-run will damage infrastructure and could potentially cut production by 50 percent, impairing the efficiency of oil wells.
The clincher in all this is that Haftar has a bad reputation and is currently under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity amid the discovery of mass graves in the city of Tarhuna, recaptured by GNA forces just hree weeks ago. What is most concerning in these current circumstances is that the United Nations and the United States have yet to eliminate Haftar from negotiations or formally condemn his actions. It’s a well known fact that Haftar, a former general for Gaddafi who turned on him, becoming a CIA informant is only interested in a total “power grab” as Turkish President Erdogan reiterated as did other world leaders. The argument by Haftar’s backers that he will be a “force against extremists” is preposterous since Haftar is an extremist to the nth degree – the mass graves in Tarhuna are proof enough of that. The conditions that Haftar set forth only seek to benefit him and his backers, no one else. Since the Arab League endorsed Libya’s GNA as the “only legitimate government” in Libya and stated that Turkey’s agreements with Libya are “legitimate” – it will be interesting to see what move they will make as the military tension in Sirte increases.
The bottom line is that it’s doubtful that the GNA or the EU would ever accept Haftar’s conditions which will require international monitoring. Haftar’s insistence that money be deposited into a ‘third country’ bank is suspicious on the face of it and would certainly make it difficult if not impossible to track the actual money flow even in this more advanced digital age. What makes Haftar actually believe he might get his conditions met is the fact that none of the nations involved want an all out war and that the U.N. and the U.S. are still allowing him back at the negotiation table.
Haftar, for all intents and purposes, still remains part of the equation in Libya. As any astute Libya analyst will tell you, this is one massive mistake. The end-game going forward is that the military build-up continuing in and around Sirte is fostering a ‘who’s on first’ mentality that has U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres exceedingly concerned. As Guterres reiterated over a week ago, there is too much “foreign interference” in Libya. As everyone knows that could lead to a major escalation the likes of which may prove to be the point of no return.