Sarraj shields himself with Libyan warlords against Bashagha and any unsatisfactory settlement drive

Sources say the GNA leader is coordinating with warlords and militia leaders after the failure of his recent visit to Rome.

The head of the Libyan presidential council of the Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj, sent a clear message Monday to Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha and the UN mission and its head Stephanie Williams that he intends to remain in office and shield himself for that purpose behind a number of warlords and militia leaders to thwart any settlement formula that does not satisfy him and his allies.

Sarraj decided to create a security apparatus called the “Stability Support Authority” at a time when the UN mission has opened the door to voting on an election mechanism for new authorities in Libya, as agreed upon by the advisory committee at last week’s Geneva meeting, and when Williams has confirmed the process is underway to agree on new authorities.

Sarraj appointed one of the most prominent warlords in Tripoli, Abdel Ghani al-Kikli, commander of the Abu Salim-Central Support militia, with three deputies: Mohammad Hassan Abu Zaribah, commander of the “Abu Sora” militia in Zawiya, and Ayoub Abu Ras, who had assumed the leadership of The Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade for a year and Mousa Mamsus, field commander of the “Mobile Force” militia constituted of armed Amazigh militants loyal to the GNA.

Sarraj granted the agency executive powers, including “the strengthening of the security measures aimed at protecting the official buildings of the state from any security threats, as well as enhancing the protection of officials whenever required, in coordination and cooperation with competent authorities, and participating in securing and protecting official celebrations and events.”

Informed sources told The Arab Weekly that “this decision is part of Sarraj’s attempts to shield himself behind the warlords and their militias in the face of Fathi Bashagha.” According to the sources, his aim is also “to thwart any attempt to establish new government leaders in implementation of the outcomes of the UN-sponsored political settlement, including the selection of a new president of the Presidential Council, which Sarraj has been leading for the last five years, based on the Skhirat Agreement of December 2015.”

The sources pointed out that Sarraj had previously appointed a number of other warlords to key sensitive positions. Among them are Emad Trabelsi, commander of the Special Task Force militia, who was appointed head of the intelligence services, and Lotfi al-Hariri, the field commander in the Central Support Militia known as the Ghaniwa Militia — relative to the name of its leader Abdul Ghani al-Kikli — was appointed as director of the Internal Security Agency.

They stressed that the most salient feature of these appointments is that they do not include any warlord from Misrata or nearby cities such as Zliten or Khums, but only militia leaders from Tripoli and cities to the west, especially Zawiya and western mountain regions.

The sources added that the recent security appointments caused widespread controversy within key state institutions in Tripoli and were interpreted as an attempt by Sarraj to impose himself in office.

Sarraj’s ambition to retain his position faces international and regional rejection, at the same time the chances of his rival Bashagha of heading the new government seem to be improving. This seems to have deepened the rift within the GNA between the Misrata camp and the Tripoli camp and their respectively allied regions.

The sources considered that Sarraj’s recent appointments amounted to a declaration of war against Misrata and Bashagha, and that Sarraj was preparing for possible confrontation with the Misrata militias or other protagonists that could try to impose a political settlement which does not satisfy the head of the GNA’ presidential council and his allies. Last December, Sarraj transferred control over the Special Deterrence Militia — the largest and most well armed militia in the western part of the country — to the presidency of the presidential council instead of the interior ministry and placed a number of militia leaders in sensitive security positions.

Observers believe that Sarraj is not only seeking to shield himself behind the warlords but also working to boost the power of their militias to thwart the plans of Bashagha, who is close to the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party, which announced a few days ago its intent to launch an operation bearing the name of “snake hunting.”

The operation is said to target illegal armed groups, smuggling and human trafficking gangs as well as terrorist elements, while a leaked list of the operation’s objectives indicated that it includes militias close to Sarraj as well as Defence Minister Salah El-Din al-Namroush, who confirmed his opposition to the operation.

Observers believe that the Abu Salim-Central Support militia is on the list of targets for “snake hunting.” That made Sarraj appoint its leader, Abdel Ghani al-Kikli, to serve as the head of the Stability Support apparatus announced Monday, and his deputy, Lotfi Al-Hariri, as director of the Internal Security Agency.

They expected to announce within days the entire militia’s transformation into the nucleus of the new apparatus.

Sources say Sarraj is coordinating with warlords and militia leaders after the failure of his recent visit to Rome, during which he asked Italian officials to support his proposal to remain president of the GNA’s presidential council in exchange for giving up the prime minister’s position for a figure chosen from the east of the country and supported by the army leadership.

Observers emphasised that in return, Bashagha is coordinating his moves with regional and international powers which are considered influential in Libyan affairs and in determining UN mission efforts.

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