(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
The Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Presidency Council were both born out of a Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) championed by the United Nations and signed by representatives from a broad range of Libyan society. Article VIII of the LPA requires that all powers of the senior military, civil and security posts stipulated in the Libyan legislations shall be transferred to the Presidency Council of the Council of Ministers immediately upon signing this Agreement. However, since the LPA was brokered on December 17, 2015, the House of Representatives (HoR) has refused to give its vote of confidence to the GNA, despite the fact that the majority of its members have expressed support of the GNA, because many have been threatened by General Khalifa Haftar and the members who support him who have blocked the HoR from meeting. HoR members loyal to Haftar are opposing the GNA and the LPA because they want General Haftar to remain in control of Libya’s army under the new unity government.
It is no surprise that the Libyan Minister of Defense Mihdi Al-Barghathi’s life is threatened as he is the subject of the most contentious political disagreement in Libya. He sits in the position that many of Haftar’s supporters believe he deserves and Haftar himself has demanded for, yet Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj chose Al-Barghathi instead. However, there is far more history between Haftar and Al-Barghathi than just the current conflict over who will be Defense Minister.
Al-Barghathi is one of the first officers who defected from the Libyan army pre-revolution, which was led by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and joined the rebels in Benghazi, and fought several battles against Gaddafi since March 2011. After the victory of the Libyan Revolution, Colonel Al-Barghathi led Battalion 204, a battalion from Gaddafi’s Libyan Army, and joined Operation Dignity launched by retired General Khalifa Haftar, after the extremist group Ansar al-Sharia attacked his battalion.
Al-Barghathi fought against the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries and Ansar al-Sharia in the western side of Benghazi for a year-and-a-half before he was given the position of Defense Minister in the GNA, despite Haftar opposing Al-Barghathi’s decision to accept the offer as Haftar did not recognize the GNA.
In response to Al-Barghathi’s support of the GNA and his efforts to unite militias and armed groups across the country in the fight against ISIS, last April Haftar ordered the arrest of Al-Barghathi on charges of treason. After returning from a meeting in Tunisia and landing in Abraq airport in the eastern city of Baydah, Haftar’s forces unsuccessfully attempted to arrest him.
Haftar’s determination to hold on to power and oppose Libya’s GNA and the Minister himself does not come unchecked. Haftar knows that his attempts at stopping or possibly assassinating the Minister will cause further division and threat to his power in eastern Libya, his only remaining stronghold in the country. Al-Barghathi, who is originally from eastern Libya, enjoys the support of the Al-Baraghathiya and Al-Awakir tribes which he belongs to. These tribes are far reaching in influence and presence from the east of Ajdabiya to the western prairie region, but especially in the outskirts of the city of Benghazi where they have the highest concentration.
In addition to tribal support, the Minister also has the loyalty of his men from Battalion 204, making it harder for the Commander of the HoR’s Army, Gen. Haftar, to enforce charges of treason or even assassinate him. Nevertheless, Haftar has his eyes locked onto the Ministry of Defense and the Libyan Army and is willing to maintain control at all costs.