Libya’s rival factions left peace talks hosted by the United Nations in Morocco on Monday without agreeing to a transition plan that was designed to put an end to the unrest that has torn the North African country apart since the former strongman, Muammar Gaddafi, was deposed and killed in 2011.
The peace plan calls for a one-year government of national unity and legitimizes the Tobruk-based House of Representatives that was elected a year ago. It also proposes the creation of 120-member State Council with ninety members drawn from a rival legislature that sits in Tripoli, the capital.
Both sides have agreed in principle to the plan that was drafted by United Nations diplomat Bernardino León. But disagreements remain on the authority of the second chamber and who would control what is left of the national armed forces.
Many components of the former army have joined the private campaign of former Gaddafi officer Khalifa Haftar who fights on behalf of the internationally-recognized government in Tobruk.
The elected officials were driven out of the capital last year by an alliance of Misrata-based militias and Islamists who had lost the election.
Egypt and the United Arab Emirates support Haftar and the Tobruk parliament, seeing the Tripoli-based Libya Dawn coalition as representative of a resurgence of political Islam in the Middle East that threatens its secular and American-allied regimes.
But Libya Dawn is far from ideologically homogenous. It includes former Al Qaeda fighters, Berber militias, Misrata militants and members of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood.
Nor is Haftar’s army the clearly secular and pro-Western fighting force he portrays it to be in order to enlist international support in his war against Islamists. Besides remnants of the national army, it includes militias from the city of Zintan as well as federalists and tribal fighters from the east and south of Libya — areas that seek autonomy or even independence now that Gaddafi is gone.
The two factions share a common enemy: supporters of the self-declared Islamic State who have been slowly expanding in both directions from Derna, a city situated on the Mediterranean coast roughly equidistant between Tobruk and Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Gaddafi’s dictatorship.
Hundreds of Derna fighters joined the Islamic State’s jihad (holy war) in Iraq and Syria and returned home to continue the struggle.
They have had limited success against Haftar’s better-equipped and more professional soldiers. Egypt and the Emirates have also carried out attacks to arrest the Islamic State’s ascendancy in the country while Libya Dawn rejects the rival Islamist group’s brutal tactics and its uncompromising interpretation of Islam.
Coordination between the two sides to defeat the Islamic State affiliates has nevertheless been lacking.