Avoiding Civil War in Libya
OE Watch Commentary: Shortly after the Friends of Libya Conference in Rome ended on 6 March, a leader from the federalist movement based in Libya’s eastern region declared that his movement – the Cyrenaica Council – would begin selling oil independently of the central government. Through a militia led by Ibrahim Jadhran, the former head of the post-Qaddafi Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), the council had been in control of (or at least prevented the government from controlling) three oil ports for several months. On 8 March a North Korean-flagged tanker, Morning Glory, docked in one of those ports (al-Sidra) and was loaded with around 300,000 barrels of oil (valued at approximately $35 million). Libya’s Tripoli-based government issued orders to prevent the ship from leaving. As explained in the first accompanying article, Libya’s Air Force and Navy stood by, leaving the ultimately unsuccessful task of attempting to block the ship to members of the Libyan Shield Forces.
On the day that the Morning Glory docked in Libya, President of Libya’s General National Congress and acting Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces Nouri Abusahmain issued Decree Number 42, calling for the formation of a special military force to break the oil ports blockade. The government force was to consist of the Libyan Army, rebel brigades, and PFG. It would be under the command of the Libyan Armed Forces chief of staff. Military operations were to begin one week after the decree was issued.
The key member of this military coalition was the Libyan Shield Forces (Central), represented mostly by fighters and firepower from the central city of Misrata. The three occupied oil ports lie between Benghazi and Misrata, near what is generally considered the border between Libya’s east and west. It is a strategically important area for the powerful Misrata brigades. Furthermore, as the second accompanying article notes, these brigades suspect that a counterrevolutionary current is gaining strength in Libya and attempting to overthrow genuine revolutionary groups such as themselves. All in all, the Misrata brigades are unlikely to take the rumblings from the east lightly.
On 11 March, the day the Morning Glory slipped away from the port of al-Sidra, clashes broke out in the city of Sirte (near the occupied oil ports) between Libyan Shield Forces that had mobilized under Decree 42 and fighters from Jadhran’s Cyrenaica Military Council. As the third accompanying article explains, the Libya Shield Forces retook the Sirte Airport and adjacent airbase, after which a standoff was defused by intensified negotiations.
Recent events seem to provide further evidence for the notion that the Libya Shield Forces are the Libyan Army’s backbone and the Misrata militias are the backbone of the Libya Shield Forces. If so, the outcome of the current tensions will depend largely on the actions taken by the Misrata brigades. At the time of writing they and their allies in the Libyan government and Army are applying a carefully calibrated combination of force and negotiation. Alliances are currently in flux, thus the situation is precarious for all. The fourth accompanying article illustrates the fine line that Libya is currently treading between state building and civil war. The article emphasizes the role of the Zintan militia (in the mountains south of Tripoli) in serving as a balance to Misrata in this particular situation. End OE Watch Commentary (Winter)

Source: “Zeidan Flees, the Islamists Win,” 16 March 2014, al-Quds al-Arabi. http://www.alquds.co.uk/?p=144273
Article 1:
When Zeidan ordered that the ship be pursued and targeted, he found that his military arsenal was empty. The battleships and boats had been destroyed by the NATO attacks. Libya’s pilots were in a state of insubordination due to changes in the leadership and thus no aircraft mobilized to stop the ship. When he asked the Libya Shield Forces, which are made up of various revolutionary factions, to mobilize, a group from Misrata did so. They used small boats and frigates to chase after the Korean ship. The images and conversations that took place between the ship’s crew and the gunmen that pursued it show that the Misrata fighters indeed blockaded the ship. However, the ship was faster than the fighters’ boats and when it came face to face with an American ship it meant that the Korean ship left Libyan territorial waters, giving Jadhran a victory in this round.
Source: Hisahm al-Shalawi. “The Roots of the Libyan Crisis,”15 March 2014, al-Jazeera. http://www.aljazeera.net/opinions/pages/2857f38d-4477-49b1-bbfd-496e71200c9e
Article 2:
The National Forces Alliance in reality takes advantage of the gaps between the revolutionary groups, foremost among them the Justice and Building Party, to weaken political, economic and social stability. These gaps are the result of the inability by the groups born from the February Revolution of building alliances with a shared vision regarding the most important political and security issues. The youth of the February Revolution are unable to understand the truth and the nature of the domestic and foreign conspiracy in Libya and consider each revolutionary faction as capable of winning this battle with their own vision and which is most often premised on the use of force… The Libyan Shield forces which follow the chief of staff and have and continue to have a major role in defeating the counterrevolutionary forces, have been on the decline in Libya’s east and especially Benghazi, where they fell into a trap set by intelligence services and which resulted in the killing of protesters in front of their headquarters last June. In November of the same year forces from Misrata stationed in the Gharghour area of Tripoli fell into the same trap. Both forces were forced to withdraw and their popularity suffered a major blow.
Source: “Misratans pull out of Sirte and oilfields ahead of possible Jadhran deal,” 17 March 2014, Libya Herald. http://www.libyaherald.com/2014/03/17/misratans-pull-back-out-of-sirte-and-oilfields-ahead-of-possible-jadhran-deal/
Article 3:
The Misrata-based Central Libya Shield Brigade (also known as the Misrata Third Force) has withdrawn from Sirte Airbase and from the Zueitina, Al-Fida and Al-Ghani oilfields south east of Sirte in the area around Zillah… According to officials in Misrata last night, a deal had been brokered under which Misratan and Benghazi forces would pull out of Sirte and the oilfields, although units from while Tarhouna, Zawia, Beida and Marj would stay. In return, Jadhran would leave for Dubai, handing over the oil terminals to the PFG under the control of Idris Bukhamada… However, whether the deal becomes reality has yet to be seen. A similar agreement brokered by the Magharba last December came to nothing.
Source: “The Balance of Fear Forces the Parties in the ‘Port Conflict’ to Negotiate,” 15 March 2014, Libya News Network. http://goo.gl/XfAJjE
Article 4:
The struggle over Sirte and the oil ports could have turned into a battle between east and west if not for Zintan’s stance rejecting the use of force to free the oil ports. This stance was supported by Zintan’s allies including Warfallah, Tarhouan, Warshefana, Gharyan and most areas in the Jabal al-Gharbi area. This eliminated the possibility of an east-west conflict and turned it instead into one between Misrata and the rest of Libya… Not all of Cyrenaica’s tribes support Ibrahim Jadhran, especially after he sold oil illegally. The al-Zawiya tribe, which lives in Adjabiya alongside the al-Magharaba tribe, announced its rejection of attempts to sell oil in this way, especially after the al-Magharaba stood with the Tibu in their battle with the al-Zawiya in Kufra. The use of military force by Misrata to liberate the oil ports, though, has led Cyreanaica tribes to ally with Jadhran… It seems that resolving the oil ports conflict calls for going to the edge of the abyss and a show of force by both sides, while negotiations continue. Events confirm that Ibrahim Jadhran is alone unable to manage the crisis…