Barely three years after the US/NATO bombing campaign against Libya that led to the overthrow and death of Muammar Gaddafi, violence and political upheaval has engulfed the north African nation as forces loyal to a renegade commander launched an assault on parliament in Tripoli on Sunday and renegade militias fought government soldiers and affiliated forces in a series of clashes across the country.
During Sunday's attack on parliament, reports the Associated Press, "militia members backed by truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rocket fire raided the parliament building in the heart of Tripoli, sending lawmakers fleeing for their lives as gunmen ransacked the legislature."
Led by General Khalifa Hifter Hifter—a long-time opponent of the Gaddafi regime who received support from the CIA and US government in the 1980's and again in 2011—the militia forces opposed to the sitting interim government say their goal is to drive out the "Islamist elements" that remain central to the power of the ruling government.
Reports indicate Hifter's forces have seized much of central Tripoli and declared a new governing council to rule in place of parliament.
On Monday, the latest reports indicate Libya's government ordered "Libya's Central Shield"—described as a coalition of Islamist-led militias controlled by the government—to launch a counter-attack against those who stormed parliament.
Libya's army chief has ordered the deployment of Islamist-led militias to the capital, a day after the storming of the parliament building in Tripoli by a renegade general's troops.
Monday's development paves way for a possible showdown between the militias — which hail from Libya's western and central regions — and the anti-Islamist troops allied with Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who staged the parliament attack Sunday and said they suspended the Islamist-dominated house, blaming it for empowering Islamic extremists.
According to a statement posted on the official Facebook page of Libya's Chief of Staff media office, Nouri Abu Sahmain signed an order to "Libya's Central Shield" — an umbrella group of powerful militias — to confront "attempts to take over power" in Tripoli.
A spokesman speaking on Hifter's behalf insisted the assault on parliament was not part of a coup, but a battle by "the people's choice."
Speaking with RT, London-based political analyst and journalist Sukant Chandan explains that the internal political realities are enormously complex but called the latest violence in Libya an example of what "NATO-exported democracy" looks like on the ground once the bombs have stopped falling.
In an interview with RT on Sunday, Chandan explained that what is happening is the result of "democracy brought to Libya on the wings of NATO, which bombed and incinerated Libyans on behalf of itself and also on the collaborators on the ground."
"[General Hifter] is an old collaborator," he continued, who "ran into the arms of the CIA back in the early 1980s, having been a senior member of the Libyan army. This is what democracy looks like when it is exported by NATO and its leading powers are based in London and Washington."
Watch the interview:
Offering additional background on Hifter and the internal situation, Anti-War.com's Jason Ditz acknowledges it's impossible to know at this point exactly what the general's aims are or what the days ahead will bring. He writes:
Whether the coup lasts remains to be seen, but [Hifter] hit parliament just hours after Prime Minister Ahmed Malteeq finally formed the first post-Zeidan government, after two months of infighting over cabinet positions,
Though a self-described independent, Prime Minister Malteeq was openly backed by several Islamist parties in the battle for premiership, which no doubt played a role in Gen. Hifter’s objection to his government.
Gen. Hifter has bragged about his US backing in the past, though exactly where he stands with the US at present is as unclear as where he stands within Libya’s military command. Anticipatory actions ahead of the coup, however, suggest that whatever prompted Hifter’s attack, it was not a surprise in the US.