As ISIS Bears Down On Oil Riches, Libya Makes Last Ditch Effort To Form Government

Early last month, we outlined the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Libya, which was transformed into a lawless wasteland in the wake of NATO-backed efforts to topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The story is hopelessly convoluted but generally speaking, there are two governments. One in Tripoli and one internationally recognized body operating out of Tobruk, where the House of Representatives remains in exile after efforts to form a unity government in the capital fell apart.

The fractured government makes protecting the state’s oil infrastructure virtually impossible in the face of an increasingly aggressive ISIS assault. Fighters loyal to Ibrahim Jadhran - the shady militia leader who effectively controls Libya’s oil exports - are fighting to secure the country’s crude, but ISIS is set to overrun them and even if they weren’t there are very real questions about where Jadhran’s loyalties lie.

(Ibrahim Jadhran)

Russian airstrikes in Syria and an increasingly capable Iraqi military have made Libya look more attractive to ISIS. There’s little in the way of airstrikes, the government is completely incapable of defending itself, and vast stores of oil are there for the taking. It’s against this backdrop that the US and Britain are considering a ground operation as part of an effort to “stabilize” the country, which is ironic because it was NATO that destabilized the country in the first place.

(an oil storage tank burns after an ISIS attack in Es Sider)

While it will likely be impossible for Libya to combat ISIS on its own, things would be helped immeasurably if the two competing governments could unite. UN-brokered negotiations produced a breakthrough last month, but on January 25, Parliament rejected a proposed 32-member cabinet out of concern that it was too large. That piece of bad news came just six days after representatives negotiating in Tunis announced they had formed a unity government.

Fast forward to Monday and we’re going to try this all over again apparently. On Sunday night, Libya’s Presidential Council named a revised lineup of ministers in another effort to form a unity government.

“In a sign of continuing divisions over how to bring together Libya’s warring factions, two of the council’s nine members refused for a second time to put their signatures to the proposed government,” Reuters reports, referencing the internationally-recognized governing body in Tobruk.

"We hope that this will be the beginning of the end of the conflict in Libya," council member Fathi al-Majbari said from Skhirat, Morocco where both sides were negotiating. "Many of the names on Sunday's list were different from last month's proposal, though the nominee for the key post of defence minister, Mahdi al-Barghathi, was unchanged," Al Jazeera says.

Trust us, this will not mark a new dawn for Libya. First, it's not even clear the new list of ministers will be approved. Even if it is, and some kind of loosely assembled government is formed, both sides are backed by a hodgepodge of militias and former rebels. Uninting them around a common cause won't be easy, especially in the midst of the ISIS assault.

For his part, Anas El Gomati, a political analyst and founder of the Tripoli-based Sadeq Institute isn't holding his breath for peace.

"I'm quiet pessimistic about this new development. The majority of what's fueling the civil war in Libya has been hidden behind the rhetoric around the 'war on terror', about saving the revolution but in fact most of the strategic fighting on the ground has been about resources: financial, military and other infrastructural resources around the country," he told Al Jazeera. "The discussions have not focused anything more than bringing people to the table. So, we have got a peace government but we haven't got a peace deal."

Right. In other words, it's a veritable free-for-all as everyone involved (including ISIS) scambles to get a piece of what was thrown up for grabs when Gaddafi fell. "The war on terror" may have been a good enough excuse to get everyone to the table but once the government is formed and it's time to put aside differences, it's unlikely things will go smoothy.

That means less of this...

And more of this...

On the "bright" side, once the unity government is formed and recognized it will be able to officially invite the US to intervene militarily against "the terrorists" which means that just as soon as Libya picks up the pieces from the last time the US broke the country, Washington will be waiting to come back in and break it all over again.

"Miss me yet?"