(Picture: Fighters fighting IS in Sabratha in early 2016. Source: Xinuha)
by Alessandro Pagano Dritto (Twitter: @paganodritto)
[September 20th, 2017 – Italy] The Italian news outlet L’Espresso has released today an article by the journalist Francesca Mannocchi that goes in depth about the clashes ongoing in Western Libya’s coastal city of Sabratha.
The assumption that Sabratha clashes are due to Italy’s alleged agreements.
Soon after the clashes broke out last September 16th, the Libyan news outlet Libya Herald had already stated that
“there has been speculation that it [the conflict] may have been triggered by a dispute over funds that Italy is paying to stop the flow of illegal migrants by having them intercepted and held in Libyan detention centres”.
L’Espresso‘s article – whose author had already written on the very issue about a month ago – goes in depth over this assumption, bearing it out through consulting anonymous both Libyan and Italian sources.
The issue seen from Italy: the government and the official complaint.
[Read about Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni reporting to the Parliamentary Committee for the Security of the Republic on Between Libya And Italy]
It worths recalling that Italy has always rejected the insisting allegations of funding unclearly affiliated militias over controlling illegal migration: although the Italian government has failed, up to now, to provide any official statement about that, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has reportedly rejected allegations during a closed-door meeting with the Parliamentary Committee for the Security of the Republic, after which its head Giacomo Stucchi told press Italy is dealing just with “village leaders”, not with militias.
However, an Italian political movement has considered both the Italian and the international press reports accurate enough to file an official complaint against the “authors” of the alleged unofficial agreement in Sabratha and, likely, get an investigation started over that.
[Read about the official complaint an Italian political movement has filed against the “authors” of the alleged agreement between Italy and Sabratha’s militias on Between Libya And Italy]
The article summed up here below could contribute to shade some light on what’s happening now in Sabratha and to the alleged Italian involvement in this situation.
September 2017 clashes in Sabratha: who’s involved in them.
According to Francesca Mannocchi, the clashes are involving two main armed groups with other supporting groups on both the sides.
The main players are the Dabbashi militia on one side and the Operation Room on the other side. The clashes reportedly triggered out when a black-windowed vehicle belonging to the Dabbashi’s went through an Operation Room’s check point without stopping at it. An anonymous local source states it could even not be a mere incident, as Dabbashi had been previously reported to call on his men for getting heavily armed.
The article describes the Operation Room as follows:
“The counter Islamic State (IS) Operation Room, created after the 2016 US raid on the IS’ positions in Sabratha, is the operative centre against the IS’ presence in Libya, it works in Sabratha under the command of Colonel Abdel Jalil and it is a military force composed not by militias but by soldiers Fayez Serraj government has straightly authorized. Moreover, it counts on the formal support of the Al Wadi brigade, a salafi brigade that supported the military operation to free Sabratha from the presence of IS’ cells*“.
Dabbashi’s militants grew worried about the presence of the Operation Room as it deployed along the coastal road to Tunisia and started to arrest some traffickers.
Now, the article reads, the Operation Room and the allied Al Awadi brigade are clashing against Dabbashi’s Al Ammu and the 48th brigade Reuters had exclusively reported about last August 21st:
“The 48th brigade is one of the main players in Libya’s last weeks of more or less official politics and diplomacy. Created in the late 2016, when Serraj’s central government decided to form units focusing on the oil smuggling. The Libyan Defence Ministry – how journalist Tom Fenoux has reported – signed the agreeement to form the 48th brigade in late January this year, at the time of the Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and Libya. At the beginning, its main task was to protect the service stations from the smugglers and to protect the safety of the town. Yet, Dabbashis’ longa manus [literally “long hand”, a latin expression meaning one who controls from behind as a shadow power] is de facto in control of the 48th brigade: “The 48th brigade is a militia made of corrupted soldiers – the Libyan source goes on – Dabbashis are in it since the beginning with Al Ammu’s uncle Hussein Dabbashi. They created the militia in order to control the town and protect Ammu and his businness, knowing a political phase against the smugglers was about to begin. Ammu’s brother, Emhedem, is in charge of the brigade and protects the group’s trafficks. They credited with the government in order to get an official task, yet they’re actually protecting not Sabratha’s security, but their family business. They’ve just changed their uniforms, but they keep on gripping the zone. Before, they used to join the trafficks, now they just pretend to fight them”.
Not only Dabbashi: the groups pressuring both him and Italy.
According to the Libyan source, Dabbashi’s group tried to show itself as the only possible interlocutor with the Italians in Sabratha, but other groups are opposing to that. The article reports Elgul militia, that would control the town’s centre, decided to push migrants into the Mediterranean to send a message both to Dabbashi and to Italy:
“The group’s head Esam Elgul – controlling the Sabratha’s centre – said to be very unhappy with the agreements reached between the Italian intelligence and the Dabbashi group, that would have got not only 5 million euros, but also a possible office inside the Mellitah compound, the ENI’s Libyan branch (militia has been controlling the street next to there due to an agreement reached back then with the Mellitah Oil&Gas)”.
Also the 48th brigade would have an office inside Mellitah, the Libyan source says, and would control the streets around it.
Quoting “an Italian source”, the article also briefly mentions Musad Abugrain “the doctor” as the one running the illegal migration from Sudan and the one with whom Italy’s agreement would have failed: both Elhul and Abugrain would therefore pushed the migrants into the sea, to put both Italy and Dabbashi under pressure.
The risk of a wider involvement in the fighting.
According to the article, Sabratha’s Military Council officially blamed on Italy for the “suspicious agreements of the Italian services with the local militias” and the clashes are on the brink of possibly getting wider by involving outsider groups from Zintan supporting the Operation Room and both Farouq and Kilani militias supporting Dabbashi.
And calling on Zintan would be “the same as calling on [Khalifa] Hafter”.
*This one and the following translations from the piece by L’Espresso’s Francesca Mannocchi must be considered as mere unofficial, partial, translations the blog’s author made at his best capabilities just in order to make the not Italian speaking public aware of what can be read in it. The only complete, authoritative, original article has been linked here the same as it was publicly shared by its own author and publisher.