The United States, Europe and United Nations have all pinned their hopes for resolving Libya’s chaos and blocking the Islamic State group’s growth there on a newly announced unity government.
The problem is: it’s not clear how the government can actually get into the country.
The unity government, brokered by the UN and headed by a little-known Libyan technocrat, Fayez Serraj, is supposed to replace the two rival administrations – one based in the capital, Tripoli, the other based in the eastern city of Tobruk – that have been battling each other for more than a year, each one backed by an assortment of militias.
But the Tripoli-based government, dominated by Islamists, and some of its allied militias said this week they will never allow the new administration – whose members are currently in neighbouring Tunisia – into the capital.
“We say it has no place among us,” Khalifa Ghweil, the Tripoli-based prime minister, said in a statement. He said the unity government was “imposed from the outside” and his administration will never let in a leadership “installed” by the UN.
Serraj told a Libyan TV channel on Thursday that he would be in Tripoli within days.
Meanwhile, the Tobruk-based parliament, which is the one recognised by the international community, still hasn’t formally approved the UN deal.
While some members support Serraj’s government, others outright reject it, viewing it as a compromise to their Tripoli rivals.
Most significantly, eastern-based strongman Khalifa Hifter, a general who commands a force of army units and militias that has been battling Islamic militants allied to Tripoli, has remained silent on the deal and many of his loyalists oppose it.
European nations are divided on how to act, even as they and Washington step up their warnings over the threat from the Islamic State group, which has taken advantage of the chaos to set up a powerful and expanding branch. There has already been some low-level, behind-the-scenes military intervention.
US special forces have been on the ground, working with Libyan officials, and US warplanes have carried out airstrikes. Libyan officials say small teams of French, British and Italian commandos are also on the ground helping militia fighters against IS militants in the eastern city of Benghazi.