Libya new battleground against Islamic State

Libyan prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj attends a news conference in Vienna (Reuters)
Libyan prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj attends a news conference in Vienna (Reuters)

The United States and other world powers say they are ready to arm Libya's UN-backed unity government.

They're hoping to wipe out the Islamic State (IS) group who have taken hold of the city of Sirte.

Lawless and awash with weapons, it is post-revolution Libya. Arms were brought in to help fighters topple long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

But instead of ushering in a new chapter of democracy and prosperity, the new Libya has been racked by civil war and political infighting.

Now, the US and other world powers meeting in Vienna say Libya needs more weapons, this time to quash a bigger threat.

"The international community will support the presidency council as it seeks exemption from the UN arms embargo to acquire those weapons and bullets needed to fight Daesh [IS]," says US Secretary of State John Kerry.

IS has taken root in the coastal city of Sirte. It has capitalised on a power vacuum that was created when the armed groups that helped bring Gaddafi down splintered and started vying for control.

Some were backing two rival governments. The General National Congress based itself in Tripoli. Its militia forced the elected government to relocate to Tobruk.

After several failed attempts, the UN has managed to get the two sides to back a unity government called the Government of National Accord.

"We urge the international community to assist us," says Libya Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. "We're not talking about international intervention; we're talking about international assistance in training, equipping our troops and training our youth."

To get weapons, Libya will need an exemption from a UN arms embargo. Mr Kerry says humanitarian aid is also part of the package.

That will go a long way to help Libyans, whose economy and society has been paralysed in the chaos since Gaddafi's fall.

But there is a risk that a future weapons shipment will fall into the wrong hands and make the conflict even worse.