Libya's Sirte, from Gaddafi to IS to unity govt forces

2016-12-06 18:19

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Tripoli - Sirte, where Libyan pro-government forces said on Monday they seized full control after more than six months of fighting, had been in the hands of Islamic State group jihadists since 2015.

Here is background on the city:

Strategic importance 

Sirte is on the Mediterranean coast roughly half-way between Libya's capital Tripoli in the west and second city Benghazi in the east.

A major port city, it lies just 350km from the Italian coast.

It is also a mere 150km west of Libya's main oil-producing area and export terminals.

Oil is a vital source of income for Libya, and several groups have fought to control its wells and pipelines since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The presence of IS in Sirte had raised fears it would attempt to seize the fields to fund its North Africa operations.

The United States on August 1 carried out its first air strikes on the town, at the Libyan unity government's request, with President Barack Obama saying defeating IS there was in America's national interest.

US warplanes, drones and helicopters conducted more than 460 strikes.

Gaddafi's birthplace 

Gaddafi who was born in Sirte in 1942, made great efforts to turn his birthplace into the capital of his "Jamahiriya" - a "state of the masses" run by local committees.

He created a new province around the town in addition to the three existing regions of Cyrenaica in the east, Fezzan in the southwest, and Tripolitania in the north.

In the 1990s, he ordered ministries to be created in Sirte, and even set up a parliament there, but eventually gave up on his plans.

Gaddafi was captured and killed in the town on October 20, 2011.

Black flags 

After Gaddafi's ouster, Sirte was largely left to its own devices until it fell into the hands of IS jihadists in June 2015.

The black flag of IS was raised over public buildings and jihadists roamed the streets in pickup trucks to check that people were praying at the correct times and women were not venturing out of the home without a male minder.

 Population 

Sirte used to have about 120 000 residents, most of them in the centre or spread along the coast.

Loyalist forces said most had managed to flee following the IS takeover.

Most people in Sirte belong to four major tribes including the Kadhadfa tribe of Gaddafi.

IS ouster 

The forces of Libya's internationally backed Government of National Accord (GNA) launched an offensive to retake Sirte on May 12 and were able to enter the city on June 9.

On August 11, pro-government forces captured IS's headquarters at the Ouagadougou conference centre, which Gaddafi erected to host international and African summits and serve his pan-African policy.

It was the birthplace of the African Union with the signing of the Sirte Declaration in 1999.

Loyalist forces pushed the jihadists into a handful of residential areas, gradually taking them one by one in the face of fierce resistance including a wave of suicide bombings.

Read more on:    muammar ­gaddafi  |  libya  |  north africa

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