Bashagha’s turn to the West and Turkish Interests in Libya

Bashagha’s turn to the West and Turkish Interests in Libya

The Tripoli Protection Force, which consists of a number of groups in the Libyan capital loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Fayez Sarraj, recently published a video investigation into the activities of GNA Minister of the Interior Fathi Bashagha.

Corruption and links with the West

The investigation suggests that Fathi Bashagha is mired in corruption. The former pilot, unknown to anyone until 2011, became a member of the military council in Misrata, coordinating the actions of militants and NATO forces to overthrow the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. At that time the BBC referred to him “a liaison with NATO”.

In 2013, units under his control were involved in a massacre in the Gharghur area of Tripoli where 40 civilians died. In 2014, he took part in the assault of Tripoli by the Islamist coalition “Libya Dawn.” According to representatives of the “Tripoli Protection Force”, Fathi Bashagha tried to make the most of his advance in power structures. Bashagha exploited his image as a member of the House of Representatives and a native of Misrata with serious military power. He and his comrades-in-arms received loans from the GNA through pressure and threats in exchange for not dragging the region into a bloody war.

Fathi Bashagha, using his connections with American diplomat and current UN Deputy Envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams, was appointed Interior Minister of the GNA. He became Minister in 2018, when Williams was the US chargé d’affaires in Libya. Another factor which, according to the Tripoli Protection Force, forced Prime Minister Sarraj to allow Fathi Bashagha to join the government was the mutiny of the 7th Kani (al-Kaniyat) Brigade of the Presidential Guard from Tarhuna between August and September 2018. Bashagha made a contract with the 7th Kani Brigade to attack Tripoli, expel the GNA and gain control of the western part of the country. His personal troops, escorted by al-Kaniyat, attacked southern Tripoli. In exchange for the end of the war in Tripoli, Bashagha received the post of Minister of Interior. With this position, he tried to promote the interests of groups from Misrata, which immediately brought him into conflict with groups from Tripoli. This led to constant clashes between the factions and a permanent civil war in the Libyan capital.

It is Bashagha who oversees the odious Salafi-Madhalite grouping – RADA (“Special Forces of Deterrence”) who control Mitiga prison, which is famous for its brutal treatment of prisoners. Recall that in January, the like-minded 604th GNA force battalion surrendered the city of Sirte to Khalifa Haftar’s troops. Earlier on Libyan social networks, information spread that the US had chosen Fathi Bashagha to succeed Fayez Sarrage at the head of the Government of National Consent.

However, the investigation by the Tripoli Protection Force shows that he always Washington’s man in the Libyan government.

Loyalty to the imperialists

On February 23, Fathi Bashagha said in a comment for Bloomberg that he supports the deployment of an American military base in Libya. According to Bashagha, this is necessary to counter Russia. The statement came after the US military announced its intention to restructure its military presence in Africa. It is worth noting that no one else from the Government of National Accord announced such an initiative.

Bashagha’s statement was made after a number of meetings with US representatives. On February 10, during a meeting with Fathi Bashagha, US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland called for the elimination of militias and armed groups in the country.

Two weeks later, Bashagha criticized militia groups, particularly the intelligence structure of the GNA, and came into conflict with militants of “al-Nawasi” (part of Tripoli Protection Force) from Tripoli. On March 2, Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Libya Joshua Harris met with Bashagha and promised him to use sanctions against individuals who threaten the peace, security and stability of Libya.

Thus, Fathi Bashagha personally received support from the US in his efforts to strengthen groups under his control in Tripoli. In addition, Fathi Bashagha began to get closer to France. On March 4, in an interview with Tunisian radio, Bashagha said that he wanted to restore dialogue with Paris based on common interests.

On February 11, the day after the meeting with the American ambassador, Bashagha met with the French delegation, which, along with other French diplomats, included, Christophe Farno, director of the Middle East and North Africa Department at the French Foreign Ministry and the French ambassador to Libya Beatrice Le Fraper Du Hellen. He was then invited to visit France.  France does not support the GNA in the Libyan conflict, instead putting its weight behind the Government in Tobruk and the Libyan National Army of General Khalifa Haftar. However, on March 17, Bashagha visited France after Haftar’s visit. Before that, Bashagha had held talks with British leadership in London.

A soft coup?

It is worth noting that all of Bashagha’s diplomatic maneuvers were not openly supported by Prime Minister Fayez Sarrage. De facto, Bashagha is playing his own diplomatic game. He is simultaneously pushing out groups outside his control and gaining the support of foreign actors. By doing so, he reinforces his domestic and foreign policy positions. It is indicative that upon arrival from Europe, Bashagha did not take the coronavirus test and went into quarantine, contrary to orders given by Fayez Sarraj.

There are still rumors that Bashagha may replace Sarraj.

Risks for Turkey

What does the strengthening  and striving for power of Bashagha in Libya mean for Turkey? Libya is important for Turkey in terms of strategy to strengthen its position in the Eastern Mediterranean. Last November, Fayez Sarraj and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed two memorandums, one was on borders in the Eastern Mediterranean and the other on military assistance. Both documents are linked.

The Turkish military is in Libya in order to implement the conception Blue Homeland (Mavi Vatan). The US, France and Britain (the countries that Fathi Bashagha has received or is seeking support for) all oppose Turkish ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In February, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle arrived at the shores of Cyprus. The French and the hostile Greek government of Southern Cyprus held joint exercises. In the same month, France and Greece, according to French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly, “decided to reinforce bilateral defense and security cooperation in a very significant manner.” In July, Athens and Paris will sign an agreement that will result in an “increased” French naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean.

Last year, the American Congress supported Cyprus in conflict with Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Ankara can’t expect help from the White House, because Donald Trump’s administration is pro-Israeli and Israel is involved with Greece and Cyprus in hydrocarbon projects in the Eastern Mediterranean (including those areas currently claimed by Turkey and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus). These energy resources are planned to be sent to Europe.

The UK has military bases in Cyprus (The Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia). On the one hand, Turkey ordered a third drilling ship to explore hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean. On the other hand, according to Oxford Research Group “Israel and Jordan”, the Turkish opposites in the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya “are widely seen as UK allies.” The UK is unlikely to go against its American allies and support Turkey in its fight for the Eastern Mediterranean.

The strengthening of Fathi Bashagha’s position within the GNA, supported by imperialist powers such as the US, France and the UK, could de facto nullify Turkey’s success in promoting its influence in Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean. It is worth taking into account that as the leader of a number of armed groups, Bashagha also poses a physical threat to Sarraj as the leader of the GNA trusted by Turkey.

United World International

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March 2023