Libyan FM speaks out

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Mohammed al-Dairi, the Libyan foreign minister, sits down for a wide-ranging interview with Al-Hayat in which Dairi outlines the needs of the fragile post-revolution nation in fighting the Islamic State and other extremist groups in the country.

Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi said the terrorism present in Libya is “Libyan, Arab and international,” adding, “Groups associated with Boko Haram have been detained” in the country. In addition, he noted that the activities of the Islamic State (IS) in Libya, Mali and Nigeria are related to the single organization based in Iraq and Syria. He estimated that the number of fighters in these organizations in Libya amount to “less than 10,000.”

In an interview with Al-Hayat in New York, following his participation in a UN Security Council meeting devoted to discussing the situation in Libya, Dairi said, “Political, legal, economic and social reconstruction in Libya cannot succeed without fighting terrorism,” because IS has “arrived at the heart of the capital, Tripoli, after previously having reached Derna and Benghazi.”

He warned against foot-dragging in confronting these organizations: “Otherwise the situation in Libya will quickly reach that of Syria and Iraq.”

He said that he participated in the Security Council meeting and preceding consultations in New York to “request support for the Libyan military in this period.” He added, “Leaving the reins free could lead to Libya becoming a larger arena for IS than is the case in Syria and Iraq now. There could be even greater risks for Libya, neighboring countries and Europe.”

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Dairi adamantly denied that his government had requested the formation of an international or foreign coalition to fight these organizations in Libya. However, he reiterated that the Egyptian airstrikes in Libya came at the request of the Libyan government, pointing out that the Libyan army receives support from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

He said that while Italy had previously declared its readiness to engage in a military intervention in Libya, it later backed down on this decision because of a Western proposition that “solving the crisis of terrorism in Libya is primarily based on achieving a national consensus government.” Dairi criticized this proposal, stressing that a political solution can be achieved in parallel with a “UN plan to re-establish security and stability in Libya.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Al-Hayat:  Is international mobilization what you want here at the Security Council, so that Libya can be a battleground against IS, along the lines of the international alliance against the organization in Syria and Iraq?

Dairi:  We are here to mobilize support for the Libyan army. On Jan. 15, 2015, we requested that the Arab League support the Libyan army’s requests for arms to enable it to cope with the dangers of terrorism in Libya, via weapons suitable for this growing danger. Then we came here to ask the Security Council to ease the restrictions imposed on requests for supplying the Libyan army in particular, and that it pass through the sanctions committee of the Security Council. We saw that some of these requests had been refused in the past, thus we would like to say that the Libyan army began its campaign against terrorism in May 2014. This armed action continued in October, when a number of units from the Libyan National Army — which was rebuilt to combat and eliminate terrorism, specifically in Benghazi — joined in. This is in addition to the attacks and air strikes that were carried out in Benghazi — in Derna in particular. We came to call for supporting the capabilities of the Libyan army in this period. Leaving the reins free could lead to Libya becoming a larger arena for IS than is the case in Syria and Iraq now. There could be even greater risks for Libya, neighboring countries and Europe.

Al-Hayat:  Is there any attempt to form a new coalition with the participation of Libya, Egypt, and some other states, perhaps Russia? The latter seems to welcome the idea of lifting the ban and the idea of forming such an alliance, more so than the UK, the US and other European countries.

Dairi:  Politically and practically, we did not call for the formation of an international alliance at this stage. However, as you mentioned, as far as we understand, Russia and China are interested in the legitimate demands of the Libyan army for suitable weapons and supplies to fight terrorism. Meanwhile, some Western countries focus on [a political settlement rather than military support for the army]. Today [Feb. 18], the Italian delegate did not speak about any military intervention, yet two days ago we heard the highest officials in Italy saying that Italy is ready to engage in military intervention.

Al-Hayat:  What happened? Why did Italy back down so quickly?

Dairi:  The fact is that there is a Western proposition saying that solving the crisis of terrorism in Libya is primarily based on achieving a national consensus government. For the umpteenth time we repeat: we support this proposition, and we support a political, military and security road map that should be accompanied by a UN plan to re-establish security and political stability in Libya.

Al-Hayat:  The positions expressed by Western states — including Germany, Italy, France, the UK and the US — focus exclusively at this stage on a political solution. There are unattributed statements from those in the UK and the US saying that these two countries oppose lifting the military ban on the Libyan army, because Washington and London don’t have confidence in the pillars of governance in Libya at this time.

Dairi:  Unfortunately, there is no political solution in Syria yet. There is, however, an international coalition against IS in Syria. This proposition [to focus on a political solution in Libya] is jumping ahead of the reality, and I said a short while ago that I am still waiting for a response from the international community. A national consensus government isn’t the only solution to fighting terrorism in Libya. We are waiting to see a comprehensive strategy for fighting the terrorism in Libya represented by IS, and until now I have yet to find a response to these questions posed by the Libyan people regarding confronting the ongoing and increasing terrorism in the country.

Al-Hayat:  What if the UK and the US continue to refuse lifting the military ban on the Libyan army? Would the Libyan army fall to IS or do you have another option, besides Egypt, to wage war on IS without international involvement?

Dairi:  We appreciate Egypt’s support, but there are other brotherly Arab states — represented by Saudi Arabia and the UAE — which, alongside Egypt, have all supported the Libyan army in the recent period in confronting terrorism in Derna and Benghazi that is represented by Ansar al-Sharia and IS. Thus, we hope that the Arab states will increase this support if there is such reluctance from the international community.

Al-Hayat:  And what about annihilating IS in Libya? Is this possible through air strikes alone, or does it require that non-Libyan ground forces, at the forefront Egyptian forces, enter Libya?

Dairi:  We are calling for speedy support of the Libyan army’s capabilities. There are not a large number of militants available to IS in Libya.

Al-Hayat:  Can you give an estimate of their number?

Dairi:  A few thousand fighters.

Al-Hayat:  Less than 5,000? Less than 10,000?

Dairi:  Less than 10,000. I can’t say [precisely], maybe between 3,000 and 8,000.

Al-Hayat:  Training this army will take a long time. What emergency steps are necessary now? Are they represented by escalating the Egyptian aerial and ground role? Do the challenges posed by IS require this? I’m asking specifically about ground intervention.

Dairi:  Here I’m talking about ground battles occurring between the Libyan army and IS and Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi. There are Libyan forces. … Training [the army] does not come from a vacuum; there is a Libyan army. There are not militias in eastern Libya, rather there is a regular Libyan army, which operated under the Gadhafi regime and the basic foundations of which were rebuilt. These basic foundations — whether in terms of the air force, infantry or special forces — are the ones fighting terrorism in Benghazi. They are the ones confronting terrorism in Sirte, in addition to the good intentions of some our brothers in Misrata which were expressed yesterday by their announcement to mobilize forces in Misrata to fight IS in Sirte. So there are ground forces.

Al-Hayat:  What about the neighboring Arab countries? Do they, Egypt for example, have a role via cross-border ground forces?

Dairi:  No, Egypt has no ground forces [in Libya].

Al-Hayat:  Would you welcome such forces?

Dairi:  We welcome military air support provided to the Libyan air force. We may be forced to request limited strikes from the Egyptian air force to fight IS. But at this stage we have not requested any ground intervention from the Egyptian army.

Al-Hayat:  Does your understanding with Egypt specify that you must agree in advance on every operation carried out by Egyptian strikes? Or is it an open invitation, without timeframes or details?

Dairi:  I would like to emphasize an important element: there is ongoing coordination between the Libyan and Egyptian armies.

Al-Hayat:  What is your reading of the statements by Algeria’s deputy foreign minister that a distinction must be made between Libya’s security and stability on the one hand, and the war on terrorism on the other? Is this reluctance in supporting the Egyptian role in Libya, or do you have another reading that differs from Algeria’s position on what is happening in Libya?

Dairi:  The fact is that Algeria — and we heard what [Deputy Foreign Minister] Abdelkahder Messahel said today — confirms, like other countries — and we heard the same from the representative of Tunisia — the need to get Libya out of its current predicament via the formation of a national consensus government. Arab and international powers believe that there is a magic wand that can bring about this government. We support [forming] a national consensus government and a political map for Libya, and we support the efforts of [UN envoy to Libya] Bernardino Leon, but as you know, until now, the delay has not come from the legitimate [government]. Yesterday a statement was issued by the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, in which these countries called for a national conference and positive engagement in the Geneva dialogue. They put their finger on the current problem. And there are also other challenges in non-engagement. But we, in the legitimate [government], said that the solution to the Libyan political crisis must be purely political, and there cannot be a military solution to the crisis that separates us from our brothers in the Dawn of Libya [alliance].

Al-Hayat:  ‚ÄčEgypt’s foreign minister told the Security Council that political Islam in Libya was created by regional countries. And members of the Security Council say that neither Egypt nor the Libyan government can classify any opponents outside the government as terrorists. So who is creating political Islam? What exactly is meant when they say “regional countries” created political Islam in Libya?

Dairi:  Ask him. But you heard after the [Security Council] session that he mentioned that the dialogue and the national consensus government should include political parties that accept this dialogue, regardless of who these parties are. As you know, Egypt has a particular political view regarding political Islam. As I said a few days ago, the fact that political Islam [groups] will not seriously engage in the Geneva dialogue raises many important questions, not only about these political parties in Egypt, but also about regional parties that support them.

Al-Hayat:  Are you saying that you disagree with Egypt when it comes to defining political Islam in Libya? Or are you in agreement on this matter?

Dairi:  We say that it is incumbent on certain regional countries to engage in the political process and support the path led by Leon to demand and pressure these political parties to engage positively in the dialogue process conducted by Leon. I would like to repeat here that there are still questions until now. Yesterday, I told a group of ambassadors from Arab states that my colleague [Egyptian Foreign Minister] Sameh Shoukry asked to meet with me to connect him to the legitimate [parties] in the parliament and temporary government. Upon making this request, he called, in a joint press conference on Dec. 28, 2014, on the legitimate [government] to show flexibility in the Geneva dialogue. You are asking about Egypt — and Egypt asked us to commit to flexibility to ensure the success of the political process in Libya that is being led by Leon. But I still have questions regarding the roles of some regional forces, which until now have not helped in a suitable manner to find a solution to the political crisis.

Al-Hayat:  Who do you mean?

Dairi:  The fact is that there are regional states supporting political Islam in the Arab region. You know who they are.

Al-Hayat:  Are you referring to Qatar and Turkey, which object to you turning to the Security Council with Egypt, as they say?

Dairi:  They don’t say [this], but Qatar unfortunately had reservations about the Arab League resolution passed by foreign ministers of Arab states on Jan. 15, 2015. It was the only Arab country that had reservations about some articles in this resolution.

Al-Hayat:  And what has Turkey said to you?

Dairi:  There is no dialogue with Turkey. I made a request to visit Turkey at the beginning of December 2014 and it has yet to be answered. There are questions we pose through you, through Al-Hayat, regarding the nature of the Turkish role.

Al-Hayat:  Is the relationship [with Qatar] as tense as it is with Turkey? Or are there mediators trying to mend the fences?

Dairi:  I visited Qatar from Jan. 4-5, 2015, and the goal of this visit was to encourage Qatar to push the political dialogue process and to demonstrate that we wanted a political solution in Libya in which Qatar played a positive role. But in the past few weeks we have seen that some Libyan parties are thus far abstaining from taking on a positive role in advancing the political dialogue in Libya.

Al-Hayat:  You said that you will go back to the Arab countries if the Security Council refuses to issue a statement lifting the military ban on the Libyan army. This is part of what you are requesting, yet you are also requesting this imposition of a naval blockade to prevent the flow of weapons to terrorists or extremists in Libya. Who will apply this blockade?

Dairi:  Currently, no Arab or international force is working to impose such a blockade. There was a blockade agreed upon regarding the illegal export of oil, and it was implemented last year when US Navy forces encountered a ship carrying some Libyan oil shipments. Unfortunately, however, we are still suffering from the illegal flow of weapons to some groups.

Al-Hayat:  There are those who say that the problem is not only about the arrival of terrorism to Libya. In their view, perhaps terrorism in Libya is fundamentally Libyan and not foreign terrorism.

Dairi:  [There is] Arab and international [terrorism in Libya]. I do not share this opinion. The terrorism is Libyan, Arab and international. Groups from Boko Haram were arrested in Benghazi.

Al-Hayat:  So there is coordination between Boko Haram and extremist groups inside Libya?

Dairi:  There is a dreadful terrorist network between IS in Syria and Iraq, [its counterpart] in Libya and Mali, and Boko Haram.

Al-Hayat:  How can the Libyan army eliminate these powerful organizations? It’s suicide.

Dairi:  No, it’s not suicide. Currently, there is determination and will among the Libyan people — through their army — to fight terrorism in Benghazi. There is also a desire from other political partners in Libya to fight terrorism. But we are looking forward to actually achieving the formation of a national consensus government, so that we can come together to fight terrorism.

Al-Hayat:  Is it in Libya’s interest to transform into a battleground against IS, while there is an urgent need to rectify errors committed against Libya, and ignore institution building?

Dairi:  Political, legal, economic and social reconstruction in Libya cannot succeed without fighting terrorism. This is unfortunate, but IS has arrived at the heart of the capital, Tripoli, after previously having reached Derna and Benghazi. The latter are two important and highly regarded cities, historically and at present, for the Libyan people and state.

Al-Hayat:  What about oil? Are there differing international obligations on the subject of oil and it falling into the hands of extremist and terrorist entities?

Dairi:  This is what we are saying. There is a risk that these groups will reach the oil well, and oil revenues, thus leading to a repeat of the Syrian tragedy in Libya. We repeat: there is a pressing need to quickly address terrorism. We should not wait months or years to fight terrorism, otherwise the situation in Libya will quickly reach that of Syria and Iraq, as we saw in 2014.

Al-Hayat:  You met with ambassadors from the five permanent member states of the Security Council, as well as with ambassadors from other important countries in the UN. How do you assess the reluctance of the US in particular concerning the war on IS in Libya, while it is carrying on with the war on the organization in Iraq and Syria?

Dairi:  The US got involved in Iraq and Syria reluctantly. There were those in the US calling for the need to intervene in 2012. After chemical weapons were used by the army — by government forces — against the Syrian people, numerous parties in the US administration called on the president to intervene. However, he abstained from intervention at that time. I want to draw attention to the fact that President Barack Obama said he was disappointed regarding Libya, because he backed down on Libya after 2011, but he doesn’t feel the same amount of disappointment as he does for Syria. This is because the US was involved in the international alliance that toppled the dictatorship in Libya in 2011.

Al-Hayat:  There is criticism directed at Libya because it does not commit to international law, in particular the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), in relation to Saif al-Islam Gadhafi. Are there any new developments on this issue?

Dairi:  Saif al-Islam Gadhafi is in Zintan. Libya does not enjoy an independent government, and we truly hope that a natural consensus government will be formed to positively deal with these issues.

Al-Hayat:  Why isn’t he handed over to the ICC or the authorities?

Dairi:  Tribal parties have yet to hand him over. They are the ones who have detained him since 2011.

Al-Hayat:  Isn’t this evidence of the structural weakness of the state?

Dairi:  ‚ÄčThere has been structural weakness in the [Libyan] state since 2011. We entered into a deep chasm that brought us to where we are today, especially in light of the presence and growth of IS in Libya.

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Found in: united nations, terrorism, qatar, libya, is, boko haram, benghazi, arab league
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