This article focuses on the second of the scenarios depicting a Salafist victory, where the Islamic State (IS) becomes the dominant force on the battlefield, defeats the other actors, and establishes the caliphate. In our previous scenario we detailed the scenario of an Al-Qaida victory where Al-Qaida groups in Libya dominate the battlefield and gradually implement Sharia through a grassroots strategy.
Note: Considering the future names of potential factions that would result from a new split between the unity government, we shall use the label nationalist for those that supported the nationalist-dominated Council of Representatives (COR) and any future anti-Islamist factions; Islamist to note those that supported the General National Congress (GNC) and any future pro-political Islamic movements; and Salafist will remain the label of choice for groups that reject democratic institutions and embrace jihadism.
Sub-scenario 4.2 An Islamic State Victory
With the Islamists and nationalists settled in a war of attrition and Al-Qaida groups locked in a struggle with Haftar’s forces, the Islamic State in Libya is able to more quickly defeat them on the battlefield and seize control of the country. Al-Qaida fighters are either killed, flee the country, or defect to the Islamic State ranks.
Upon taking control of Libya, the Islamic State hunts down and executes political figures, judges, religious leaders, militia members, soldiers, and military leaders associated with the Islamists and nationalists that refuse to pledge allegiance to the Caliph. In doing so, it effectively neutralizes all political parties, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, anti-IS fighters – thus allowing it to implement its own form of pure governance untainted by democracy, the Muslim Brotherhood, and everyone else it considers kafir. The execution of prominent political and military leaders is used as propaganda to further the creation of a Libyan Islamic State.
Contrary to Al-Qaida’s gradual and localized strategy for governance in Libya (see our previous post), the Islamic State immediately implements Sharia rule over the population through a centralized form of governance. Cities such as Tripoli, Misrata, and Benghazi begin to resemble Islamic State strongholds like Raqqa and Mosul. The Hisbah [morality police] patrol Libyan communities and cities, ensuring that women adhere to the strict dress code, and that people are not in possession of or consuming cigarettes and alcohol, among a plethora of other rules enforced under Sharia. The Islamic State establishes Sharia courts to maintain a pure caliphate and implements its taxation system (grounded in zakat) to pay for the expenses needed to govern Libya. In addition to the tax revenue, IS holds control of Libya’s oilfields – allowing it to make massive profits.
To maintain control over the Libyan people, the Islamic State uses Sharia courts and the Hisbah, executes dissenters and enemies, reforms the education system to produce the next generation of jihadists, and heavily propagandizes the caliphate. As a demonstration of its ability to maintain the caliphate, the Islamic State provides public services, such as water, electricity, street cleaning, and charity for the poor. To enhance the legitimacy of their state, IS allows local officials to keep their jobs, provided they repent for working for the nationalists or Islamists and pledge their allegiance to the Caliph.
— Terrormonitor.org (@Terror_Monitor) May 2, 2016
Differing from Al-Qaida’s strategy of garnering domestic legitimacy and influencing the population through decentralized local councils, the Islamic State utilizes a more centralized hierarchy to maintain control by force. As noted by Helene Lavoix in “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – The Calif and Legitimacy” and “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Means of Violence,” the Islamic State is ruled by a “highly organized and hierarchical structure,” at the top of which are the Caliph, the Shura Council [consultative body] and the Sharia Council [judiciary body], which oversee lower councils, such as the Military Council. The Islamic State divides Libya into Wilayat Barqa [Cyrenaica], Wilayat al-Tarabulus [Tripolitania], and Wilayat al-Fizan [Fezzan] – maintaining a flexible stance on carrying out objectives. Core leadership in Libya relay broad strategic goals from the Caliph and leading councils to its wilayats, who carry out broad directives, but also pursue local objectives to strengthen the Libyan state.
With Libya lacking the strong sectarian dynamic found in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State focuses on tribes in order to garner support and fill its ranks – ranks that rely primarily on tribal and foreign fighters. Drawing on the minority tribes’ feelings of marginalization, the Islamic State in Libya recognizes the Amazigh, Tuareg and Toubou the same as the rest of Libya’s tribes – provided they pledge allegiance to the Caliph and pay taxes from the lucrative smuggling routes in the south. Now having a guaranteed opportunity to be an equal part of the new state, as well as having protection from hostile Arab tribes, the minority tribes align themselves with the Libyan Islamic State. After seeing the Islamic State execute tribal dissenters, Arab tribes – particularly those that were allied with Qaddafi’s regime during the revolution – submit to the Caliph. Tribes allied with Qaddafi’s regime during the revolution but marginalized by the General National Congress and Dawn of Libya coalition – particularly the Qadhadhfa – pledge their allegiance to the Caliph as a means to restore their tribal influence and power. Smaller tribes, or those with rivals, agree to be part of the Islamic State as a means of protection from stronger or rival tribes.
Considering the Islamic State’s total control of the country, its ability to profit from vast oil resources, and Libya’s strategic geographic location as a smuggling crossroads and launch pad into Europe, the Libyan wilayats of the Islamic State would be the most successful branches in Africa. Libya quickly becomes a vital Islamic State crossroads between Africa and the Middle East, further strengthening the organization’s ability to launch attacks into Europe, Egypt and Tunisia, as well as to expand its presence into the rest of Africa.
The Islamic State’s control of Libya – with its oil resources and close proximity to Europe – forces an international response. Such a response, however, depends on the willingness and ability of the international community to engage militarily. The absence of friendly armed groups on the ground means a military operation would be entirely dependent on the militaries of external actors. If external actors are already engaging Islamic State forces in other countries, involved in additional conflicts, and experiencing domestic instability, they opt for a more limited military engagement that is designed to degrade the Libyan wilayats until a full offensive is feasible. On the other hand, external actors that see Libya as more of an imminent Islamic State threat compared to Syria or Iraq (e.g. Egypt, Italy, etc.) push for a full military campaign to eliminate the Libyan Islamic State. New scenarios would be required to fully understand the depth and details of these potential developments.
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 4.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
- The ability of the Islamic State to defeat Al-Qaida groups in Libya. In addition to defeating the Islamist and nationalist coalitions, the Islamic State will need to defeat Libya’s Al-Qaida affiliates. If the AQ groups fail to form a united front against the Islamic State and lack external support, the likelihood of this scenario increases. However, if they unite, Al-Qaida groups may be able to prevent the Islamic State from fully governing a city or territorial area. A past indication occurred when a coalition of Al-Qaida affiliates drove an Islamic State force out of Derna (BBC News, April 21, 2016).
- The ability of the Islamic State to implement an organized administrative hierarchy across the Libyan wilayats. An Islamic State victory allows it freedom of movement and control of the power vacuum. With wilayats already declared, its leaders would need to agree on governing councils for Libya, as well as communication strategies related to strategic directives from the Caliph and upper-level councils. Once this hierarchy is in place, it can begin organizing local level administrative departments. If Libyan IS leadership is able to implement such a hierarchy, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
- The level of the Islamic State’s desire to eliminate Libyan leaders that still oppose the Caliph. If the Islamic State leadership in Libya wants to execute the kafir political leaders, judges, religious leaders, and military leaders for propaganda purposes or to punish them for their opposition to the Caliph during the war, the likelihood of this scenario increases. Executing prominent leaders like General Haftar would be lucrative propaganda pieces for the burgeoning Libyan wilayats. Past indications occurred when IS kidnapped and executed Salem Mohammed al-Namli, who was a judge on the al-Khoms appeal court (KR Magazine, August 6, 2015; Zelin, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 2016), and when IS executed a Salafi imam in Sirte who refused to submit (Zelin, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 2016).
- The ability of the Islamic State to implement Sharia law throughout the whole country. Considering the Islamic State’s strategy of quickly implementing Sharia – often by force – once it takes territory (compared to Al-Qaida’s gradual and localized strategy – see previous post), an Islamic State victory over all Libya would signal its ability to impose Sharia across the country. This, of course, would require manpower and a judicial system to enforce. Following the cessation of hostilities as a result of an Islamic State military victory, the Libyan wilayats would have to create Hisbah units to patrol the newly subjugated populations and find those who break the moral code of Sharia, as well as implement a Sharia court system throughout the country. Once the judicial system is in place, the enforcement of Sharia would be able to be standardized throughout Libya. If the Islamic State is able to implement the Sharia courts and create Hisbah units, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
- The Islamic State’s ability to provide public services and charity to the population. Maintaining public works and providing charity to the poor allows the Islamic State to “offer a semblance of stability in unstable and marginalized areas,” (Zelin, The Atlantic, June 13, 2014; Lopour, Reuters, November 27, 2015). Once it transitions to a state-building phase, the Islamic State will likely promote its public works projects and its charity for the needy (through zakat, or charity tax) in an effort to further legitimize the caliphate, which could furthermore attract foreign recruits. If IS allows public workers and officials to keep their jobs, or fills the positions with its own people, the likelihood of this scenario increases. Past indications occurred when the Islamic State took control of Sirte and provided public services and charity (Raghavan, The Washington Post, August 23, 2016; Zelin, The Washington Institute, August 6, 2015).
- The ability to achieve a balance between enforcing its rule and maintaining a societal recruiting pool. If the Islamic State goes too far in enforcing its rule through widespread killings, populations may be less willing to join its ranks. On the other hand, trying to “win hearts and minds” of the population at the expense of the strict enforcement of Sharia could make the Libyan Islamic state appear weak. If the Islamic State is able to achieve a balance between the enforcement of Sharia and maintaining goodwill with the populations, the likelihood of this scenario increases. A past indication occurred when IS forces killed a Salafi imam in Sirte for not cooperating with them. In response, Farjan tribal members revolted against the Islamic State, who reportedly killed nearly two hundred of the tribesmen (Zelin, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 2016). Furthermore, if the Islamic State is willing to spare the lives of repentant soldiers and police officers, it could increase its recruiting pool while simultaneously enforcing its rule by executing those who refused to repent. A past indication occurred when Islamic State forces in Wadi Zamzam “required regular army and police officers to declare their tawbah [repentance] from formal Libyan state actors,” (Jihadology, May 10, 2016).
- The ability to recruit enough local and foreign jihadists to maintain control of the Libyan wilayats. In order to sustain its wilayats, the Libyan Islamic State would have to retain a sufficient number of fighters and support personnel. To do this, it would have to recruit both local and foreign jihadists. Depending on its ability to profit of Libya’s oil resources (see indicator below), the Islamic State could offer decent wages and other incentives to those who join its ranks. The willingness of the tribes to submit to the Caliph (see below) would also determine the Islamic State’s ability to recruit from Libya’s many tribal militias. Furthermore, the state of wilayats in other countries – like Iraq and Syria – would impact how many foreign jihadists could be persuaded to migrate. If other wilayats are militarily conquered, IS leadership could direct foreign recruits to the new Islamic state of Libya. A past indication occurred when IS leadership directed foreign fighters to head to Libya instead of traveling to Iraq and Syria (Taylor, The Washington Times, January 17, 2016). Libya’s Islamic State could also draw on Al-Qaida defectors to bolster its manpower. A past indication occurred when Ansar al-Sharia fighters defected to the Islamic State as it was taking power in Sirte (Zelin, The Washington Institute, August 6, 2015).
- The ability to resume Libya’s oil operations and profit from the sale of oil. The Islamic State’s ability to profit from Libya’s oil resources depends on both its ability to maintain oil production and export the oil to buyers. In addition to procuring the right equipment (depending on whether it was destroyed in conflict or not), IS would need to recruit petroleum engineers and managers to restart and maintain oil production. Once the oil is flowing again, the Islamic State will be able to export it to buyers. If the Libyan Islamic State is able to both maintain the production and exportation of its oil, the likelihood of this scenario increases. Past indications occurred when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria recruited petroleum experts to maintain production, and then sold refined oil to local traders (Solomon, Chazan, and Jones, Financial Times, October 14, 2015; Solomon, Kwong, and Bernard, Financial Times, February 29, 2016).
- The willingness of the tribes to submit to the Caliph. Libya’s tribal society will impact the Islamic State’s ability to govern Libya; thus, their willingness to submit to the Caliph would likely be taken into consideration by IS wilayats. If the Islamic State wants to control and or heavily tax the southern smuggling routes, it will want to develop ties with the Tuareg and Toubou tribes. It could use their feelings of marginalization to gain allegiance – giving them the same recognition as the Arab tribes and promising them some of the oil profits from their wilayat. By pledging allegiance to the Caliph and being loyal to their wilayat, the Tuareg and Toubou could also expect some protection from hostile Arab tribes. For the Arab tribes, particularly in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, the Islamic State might use a combination of brutality and reward to gain their allegiance. Tribes that oppose the new state may incur its wrath – including the execution of some of its leaders or the killing of its people. On the other hand, tribes that became marginalized after the 2011 revolution – notably the Qadhadhfa tribe – see that allegiance with the Islamic State is an opportunity to regain some of its power and influence. Smaller or rival tribes could also align themselves with the Islamic State as a means of protection from enemy tribes. If the Arab and minority tribes pledge allegiance to the Caliph (for any of the above reasons), the likelihood of this scenario occurring increases. Past indications occurred when IS forces violently put down a Farjan tribe uprising (Zelin, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 2016); when tribes from the Sirte area “welcomed rule by ISIS as a counterweight to abuse by forces from Misrata” (Wehrey, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 12, 2016); and when the Qadhadhfa tribe became a supporter of the Islamic State for political means and helped it take over Sirte (The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, January 2016).
- The willingness of external actors to launch a military operation in Libya. An Islamic State victory in Libya would certainly cause a great deal of concern for external actors. Many would likely be willing to participate in a military operation, depending on current global events. If the leading advocates of a military incursion are already involved in military operations in other hotspots, external actors may be less willing to commit to a Libya one – thus increasing the likelihood of this scenario. However, if they are not heavily engaged in other conflicts, or consider Libya a higher threat (e.g. Egypt, Europe), they may be more willing to participate in a Libyan operation – thus decreasing the likelihood of this scenario. Furthermore, the lack of friendly armed actors on the ground may impact their willingness. In the case of an Islamic State victory, no armed groups outside of Islamic State forces would exist, which increases the likelihood of this scenario occurring.
- The ability of external actors to launch a military operation. Even if external actors are willing to commit forces to a military invasion of Libya, their ability to do so would impact the likelihood of such an action. With military forces currently engaged in places like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan, external actors would be forced to prioritize their military commitments to match their current military assets that can be deployed. If these countries lack the ability to deploy sufficient military forces to Libya, the likelihood of this scenario increases. Their ability would also include the level of their munitions stockpiles, which could be dangerously low if they are heavily engaged in airstrikes in other operations. A past indication occurred when the United States was forced to borrow smart-bomb munitions from its other regions to carry on its air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Weisgerber, DefenseOne, May 26, 2016).
Feature Photo: Islamic State fighter in Benghazi, posted by Terrormonitor.org, 24 December 2016
Aaron Zelin, “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Has a Consumer Protection Office,” The Atlantic, June 13, 2014
Aaron Y. Zelin, “The Islamic State’s Burgeoning Capital in Sirte, Libya,” The Washington Institute, August 6, 2015
Aaron Y. Zelin, “The Islamic State’s Territorial Methodology,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 2016
Dr. Helene Lavoix, “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Means of Violence,” The Red Team Analysis Society, June 15, 2015
Dr. Helene Lavoix, “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – The Calif and Legitimacy,” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 25, 2015
Erika Solomon, Guy Chazan, and Sam Jones, “Isis Inc: how oil fuels the jihadi terrorists,” Financial Times, October 14, 2015
Erika Solomon, Robin Kwong, and Steven Bernard, “Inside Isis Inc: The journey of a barrel of oil,” Financial Times, February 29, 2016
Frederic Wehrey, “Struggling to Fight Islamic State in a Fractured Libya,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 12, 2016
Guy Taylor, “Islamic State directs jihadi recruits to ‘Libya Province’ in bid to establish second homeland,” The Washington Times, January 17, 2016
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