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World

Understanding The Fighting Factions In Libya

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya has struggled to establish and maintain a stable government. Now the country is on the verge of an all-out civil war. Libya is divided between the U.N.-backed government located in Tripoli in the west, protected by a coalition of militias. To the east in Benghazi, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar has his own militias. He controls almost two-thirds of the country, including the major oilfields. And his forces are marching on Tripoli. I spoke with Mansour El-Kikhia via Skype. He's in Benghazi, and he's a professor of international relations and Middle East politics at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He told me he believes Haftar has brought much-needed stability to eastern Libya.

MANSOUR EL-KIKHIA: When I met him a couple of months ago, I said, listen. You have fought against Islamic radicalism. And you have saved Benghazi and eastern Libya from the terrorist threat. But if you try to run for office, you will lose all that because Libyans are difficult to govern. And I said to him, do you have any aspirations with that? He says, no. I want to rise above this. So I think he sees a real threat to Libya by the existence of these elements. And unfortunately, the international community and the United Nations, they are supporting a government that has no power. And in the end, that government that has no power is being run by militias.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some people would counter that, actually, Haftar's forces are also comprised of militias with little ideology, some elements within them are so-called extremists and that he is no better than the forces he's purporting to counter.

EL-KIKHIA: I mean, I hate to disagree with this. I mean, Haftar is not perfect. I don't say he's perfect. But he has a Libyan army. They might have started off as militias. But now they are inducted into regular army. And more important, they try to paint Haftar into a warlord. You know, he's not. He has been authorized by the only representative body in the country, which is the Libyan Parliament. And so, please, don't get me wrong. I am not enamored with Haftar. And the last thing I want to see in Libya is another military dictatorship. I don't want to see that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So why is Haftar making this move to take Tripoli now?

EL-KIKHIA: In Arabic, we say, nobody feels the pain more than somebody standing in the fire. Libya is in desperate situation. Country's wealth is being spent on nonsense, support of terrorist activities that are taking place in the Middle East. And Libyans are in poverty. Inflation is extremely high. The unemployment is extremely high. People are hungry. And a number of attempts has been made to reach an accord and agreements through the U.N. But nothing came out of that because the government in Tripoli can't take any decisions given the fact that it has to consult with the militias first, whom it depends on for protection.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mansour El-Kikhia, thank you so much.

EL-KIKHIA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THIEVERY CORPORATION'S "GUIDANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.