Libya’s Bashagha to Asharq Al-Awsat: I Will Remain in My Post Until Elections Are Held

Head of Libya’s government of stability, Fathi Bashagha. (Reuters)
Head of Libya’s government of stability, Fathi Bashagha. (Reuters)

Libya’s Bashagha to Asharq Al-Awsat: I Will Remain in My Post Until Elections Are Held

Head of Libya’s government of stability, Fathi Bashagha. (Reuters)
Head of Libya’s government of stability, Fathi Bashagha. (Reuters)

Head of Libya’s government of stability, Fathi Bashagha announced that he would remain in his position until “all Libyan parties” agree on electoral laws, which are welcomed by the international community, and until they set dates for the presidential and parliamentary elections.

“Only then will I decide,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview.

On whether he will run for president, he said he will make up his mind after the laws and regulations related to the polls are approved.

He hoped that the international community would take more steps in supporting the initiative of United Nations envoy Abdoulaye Bathily that aims for the elections to be held this year.

Bashagha dismissed claims that he has low chances of being elected president due to his government’s failure in entering the capital Tripoli to perform its duties.

“I have great popularity, whether I succeeded in entering Tripoli or not,” he stressed.

“Everyone knows that my project calls for the establishment of the state and this has prevented others from remaining in their posts for as long as possible and led to more calls for the elections to be held,” he remarked.

Commenting on his relations with Türkiye and reports that it had supplied his rival, head of the Government of National Unity (GNU) Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, with drones to thwart his entry into Tripoli, Bashagha said: “Every phase has its circumstances and conditions. My relations with Ankara have been and continue to be excellent.”

Moreover, he praised the relations he enjoys with parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh. “Some believe that these ties are strained, but that is not true,” he added.

On reports that Libyan parties want to keep Seif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the son of late ruler Moammar, from running in the presidential elections, Bashagha said the issue is always brought up when talks are held over dropping the candidacy of figures who have judicial rulings against them.

Seif al-Islam is instantly the target of such discussions, he noted, saying that such a judicial condition is part of electoral laws in several countries.

Turning to armed groups in Libya, he said the issue is “not impossible to resolve”.

“With enough international support and political will, the problem can be overcome,” he added.

Furthermore, he said that when he served as interior minister, he had come up with a training and rehabilitation program for the fighters. Several of them have already been recruited and others have graduated as officers.

The program, however, came to a halt after his term as minister ended.

In addition, he warned of the spread of illegal weapons in Libya. This makes the country a safe haven for extremists.

Terrorist cells are already present in the South, he noted. They may expand their activities if they receive the necessary funding, he warned.

These cells are involved in drug smuggling and human trafficking.

He underscored the importance of forming a southern border force that could address the security situation there.

However, the security institutions would continue to be weak in the absence of a united government and the continued divisions, he lamented.

Asked about the international efforts to support the UN initiative on Libya, Bashagha called for employing “any efforts to help resolve the crisis.”

He acknowledged that the United States and Europe are keen on the withdrawal of Russia’s Wagner group from Libya.

“That is not their only concern,” he remarked.

“The stability of Libya is their priority as it is for neighboring countries, like Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Sudan, and the rest of Africa,” he stressed.

“Everyone knows that the longer the crisis in Libya goes on, the more likely it is to impact Africa,” he warned.

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The late Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, excelled at delivering messages subtly. In private meetings, he spoke more freely than in public statements or interviews. His chief advisor, Fakhri Karim, often joined these discussions.

Luncheons were lavish, showing Talabani's respect for different opinions, though he rarely followed doctors’ advice.

Talabani believed that Iranian leaders were smart and hoped they wouldn’t try to control Baghdad from Tehran, citing the failed attempt to manage Beirut from Damascus.

He noted that Iraq’s independent spirit makes it hard for the country to follow the US, Iran, or Türkiye. Talabani also admitted giving refuge to 80 Iraqi officers who had fought against Iran, after they were targeted by certain groups.

Talabani praised Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad for his invaluable support, providing accommodation and passports.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Karim revealed he had warned President Bashar al-Assad, on behalf of Talabani, that militants allowed into Iraq to fight US forces might later turn against Syria.

This, Karim noted, did happen.

After the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982, Karim relocated to Damascus. There, he expanded his Al-Mada organization, focusing on publishing, translation, and organizing book fairs, alongside his political activities.

This allowed him to build relationships with top civilian and military officials.

In 2000, after Bashar al-Assad came to power, he met with Karim.

“I felt Assad was eager to listen, especially given my connections with many intellectuals,” recalled Karim.

“I told him dissenting voices exist but are mostly positive. You talk about modernization and renewal; this is a chance for some openness, even in elections,” Karim said he told Assad.

“Do you think anyone could really compete with you, given your position as the Baath Party's leader with all its resources?” Karim questioned.

Karim then discussed the situation of Syrian Kurds with Assad, noting that many lack identification papers, even basic travel documents. He also mentioned seeing historic Kurdish areas in the Khabur region with their names changed to Arabic, which causes sensitivities.

“I am not satisfied with this situation. Rest assured, this issue is on my agenda, and you will hear positive news about it,” Karim cited Assad as saying at the time.

In a later meeting, after the change in Iraq, Karim met Assad several times.

On one occasion, Karim recalls conveying Talabani’s greetings and concerns about armed fighters moving into Iraq and the dangers this posed to both Iraq and possibly Syria.

“We have deployed large forces to secure the borders, but what can we do? There are tribes and smugglers,” Assad complained about the situation.

“I told President Assad that as Fakhri Karim, I couldn’t share with the Americans what I know. I assured him that terrorists enter Iraq from a specific location I’m familiar with, not from all borders,” Karim recounted to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“I also noted that Syria tightly controls its airspace, shooting down any foreign aircraft,” he added.

Assad then responded to Karim and said: “We’re prepared, let us know what we can do.”

In reality, Damascus was worried because there were reports suggesting that Syria’s Baath regime could be the next target for the US army at its borders. Additionally, Damascus was concerned about the sectarian divisions—Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish—in dealing with Iraq and the potential impact on Syria.

Repairing Kurdish Relations

Karim has spent years working on repairing the relationship between Kurdish leaders Talabani and Masoud Barzani.

This history began with the split that gave rise to the ‘Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’ from the ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party.’

Despite bloody conflicts and external meddling, Karim believes Kurdish leaders unify in the face of danger to their people and region, a pattern he expects to continue.

Karim believes that the Kurdish leadership, symbolized by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, made a big mistake at the beginning by focusing only on regional issues, ignoring Baghdad’s affairs.

He thinks they should have aimed for a federal democratic system that respects citizenship rights.

Karim pointed out that without a unified Iraq, the region’s rights would be uncertain. He also criticized the Shiite-Kurdish alliance, which he sees as odd.

Additionally, he mentioned mistakes in failing to unify regional institutions and increasing corruption, with party interests often trumping competence in appointments.

Asked about the personal bond between Talabani and Barzani, Karim said: “Both have moved past their tough history, but they haven’t done enough for the future.”

“I want to highlight an act by Barzani that shows his character. When Talabani was sick, Barzani made it clear to anyone thinking of harming Talabani or his family that there would be consequences,” he revealed.

“This isn’t hearsay, it’s firsthand,” affirmed Karim.

“Barzani also refused to discuss the presidency or a successor during Talabani’s illness. I personally organized a gathering for Talabani’s family, where Barzani reassured them, ‘I’m here for you, I’m family.’ His words moved everyone, showing a strong emotional connection,” he added.

When asked about Barzani’s character, Karim said: “He's been a long-time friend, and our relationship has been politically aligned and personally warm from the start.”

“I see him as a loyal friend, and he's shown that loyalty on multiple occasions. He’s smart, decisive, and listens carefully, often changing his mind after thorough consideration,” he noted.

“Once Barzani commits to something, he finds it hard to go back on his word. There was a moment during negotiations with Saddam Hussein when he stood firm despite my advice to reconsider,” recalled Karim.

Regarding the aftermath of the independence referendum, Karim believes that the negative turn in the political landscape began during Nouri al-Maliki’s tenure.

Al-Maliki’s attempts to shift alliances and his refusal to compromise exacerbated tensions.

The referendum itself wasn’t the problem; rather, it was exploited by some to punish the Kurdistan Region.

However, Karim emphasized that holding referendums is a citizen’s right, and the purpose of the Kurdistan referendum was to affirm this right, not to declare independence.