REBEL LIBYAN COLONEL SALAH AL-DIN BADI EMERGES AS KEY OPPONENT TO UN-BROKERED UNITY GOVERNMENT
Nicholas A. Heras
The United Nations brokered a national unity government in Libya, formed with the intention of ending the bitter political divisions in the country and coordinating the country’s disunited militia forces against the Islamic State’s growing influence. The unity government, however, has been contested by a coalition of powerful militias from the central-western coastal city of Misrata and from the capital of Tripoli (Al-Arabiyya [Dubai], March 30; Al-Arabiyya [Dubai], March 28; Akhbar Libya [Tripoli], March 19). These militias, which are organized from the pre-existing joint operations force Jabhat al-Sumud (Front of Steadfastness), are refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the UN-brokered national unity government. Leading this armed resistance to the UN-brokered national unity government is Salah al-Din Badi, one of the most powerful Misratan militia commanders and one of the most vocal critics of the national unity government (Associated Press, March 30).
Badi, 59, was one of the most noteworthy Libyan armed opposition leaders during the 2011 civil war, and he became famous for mobilizing and commanding Misrata’s first armed opposition units as the city became the center for the anti-Qaddafi opposition movement (YouTube, October 23, 2014; Akhbar Libya [Tripoli], November 9, 2012). Prior to the onset of the Libyan civil war in February 2011, Badi served as an officer in the Libyan Air Force throughout the 1980s and was trained as a fighter pilot (Al-Jazeera [Doha], December 24, 2014; Akhbar Libya [Tripoli], November 9, 2012). He gained national notoriety in Libya in 1992 when he resigned his commission in protest of Libyan military action in the ongoing war with Chad, a decision that ostracized him from the Qaddafi government; his resignation resulted in his placement under surveillance, a ban on his travel outside of Libya, and subsequent trial for subversion in 2007 (Al-Jazeera [Doha], December 24, 2014; Akhbar Libya [Tripoli], November 9, 2012).
During the civil war against forces loyal to Qaddafi, Badi earned a reputation for being a fearless frontline commander, as well as the key strategist behind several of the armed opposition’s successful operations in and around the area of Misrata (YouTube, October 23, 2014; Global Post [Sirte], September 19, 2011; The Telegraph [Tripoli], May 11, 2011; YouTube, April 14, 2011). After the war, in July 2012, Badi was elected to the post-revolutionary, interim Libyan parliament as an independent candidate, while maintaining his active communication with and command over the Misrata-based militia (Libya Herald [Tripoli], March 24, 2014). Badi resigned from the Libyan parliament in November 2013 at the request of the Misrata Local Council following the killing of 43 and wounding of 460 unarmed protestors demonstrating against militia rule in Tripoli (Human Rights Watch, November 17, 2013). The attacks against the protestors took place in the Ghargour district of Tripoli, and were committed by Misrata-based militias that were part of the capital’s security forces. Badi’s withdrawal from parliament was believed to be in protest of the threat of punitive action against the Misrata militias (L’Opinion [Paris], August 25, 2014; Libya Herald [Tripoli], March 24, 2014).
Badi regained national prominence in 2014 when he helped form the Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) alliance of militias that supported the General National Congress. The Misrata-mobilized militia coalition of the Libyan Shield Force was a major component of the Fajr Libya, and Badi’s strong influence and authority within the Misrata armed opposition groups provided him with a prominent command role within Fajr Libya (Jeune Afrique [Tripoli], October 19, 2015; L’Opinion [Paris], August 25, 2014; YouTube, October 23, 2014; Al-Ahram [Cairo], August 14, 2014). He infamously ordered a Fajr Libya attack on the Tripoli International Airport in July 2014, which was held by rival militias mobilized from the western mountain city of Zintan that supported the Tobruk-based House of Representatives government. The attack led to the destruction of the airport and significant damage to resident airplanes (Al-Arab [Tripoli], July 21, 2014; YouTube, July 13, 2014). Badi also served as the head of intelligence for the armed forces loyal to the General National Congress (Al-Wasat [Tripoli], February 17, 2014).
Badi is also reported to have issued orders to the militia forces under his authority to kill anyone in Tripoli caught assisting the House of Representatives government or working toward a unity government (OPEMAM [Tripoli], January 15, 2015; Al-Arabiyya [Dubai], October 16, 2014). His opposition to the UN-sponsored diplomatic process to achieve a unity government has led the European Union to list him as a person to be potentially sanctioned (Reuters, July 20, 2015). He is a fierce opponent of Libyan actors that he believes to be working to implement the former Qaddafi-era regime, which includes the House of Representatives government and its allies, particularly General Khalifa Haftar and the Islamic State, which he considers to be takfiri organization working against the people of Libya (YouTube, March 20, 2015).
Badi’s opponents accuse him of being an instrument of Qatar and Turkey in Libya—both of which have provided support for the Fajr Libya coalition—and to maintain a close relationship with the militant Salafist armed organization and al-Qaeda affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia (Al-Arab [Tripoli], July 21, 2014). He has publicly expressed his disagreement with the Muslim Brotherhood, arguing that its political Islamist agenda is flawed and that its program is not necessary in the overwhelmingly Sunni Libya (Al-Jazeera [Doha], December 24, 2014). However he is believed to have strong ties to militant Islamist political actors and to have caucused with them when serving in the Libyan parliament, and Jabhat al-Sumud states that it is working towards instituting sharia in Libya’s society and Constitution (YouTube, June 16, 2015; YouTube, June 15, 2015; Le Monde [Tripoli], February 16, 2015; Le Figaro [Tripoli], July 15, 2014).
Securing Tripoli by promoting a national unity government and a coordinated military response to the Islamic State is a priority of the international community and many of Libya’s internal actors. Badi’s refusal to comply with this diplomatic process complicates Libyan and international effort to achieve a political framework that can build the capacity of Libyan state institutions to respond to the country’s development needs and to address the Islamic State threat. Badi remains a powerful militia leader in the country’s capital region, and as a dedicated anti-Islamic State commander, he could play a positive role in protecting the city of Misrata from Islamic State forces. However, his refusal to stand down his militia forces in Tripoli and to redeploy them to Misrata is likely driven by a desire to remain a powerbroker in the capital. Therefore, Badi remains a major driver of instability as Libyan and international actors try to build a stable, sustainable governing and security infrastructure.