Libya: Banning Bad Behavior


September 28, 2012: The September 11th Islamic terrorist attack on American diplomats (and the death of the American ambassador) mobilized a lot of public anger against the militias and Islamic radicals. While some militias have been disbanded and new pro-government men have taken over control of other militias, there are still plenty of these groups around and beyond government control. But most of the militias are still there. The government now has more popular backing to shut down militias but there is still local support, especially in the interior (where Kaddafi was popular). There are still tribal militias (pro and anti-Kaddafi) fighting in the southeast, with government officials not having much success in persuading anyone to make peace. Then there is the corruption, which is rampant and the single biggest problem in the country. It is the corruption and greed that are at the root of most government problems. There is not a lot of trust but there is a big sense of entitlement.

The main problem with the militias is that most of them have turned into profitable businesses. The militias establish a form of law and order in an area and then extort "protection" money from businesses and "fees" (ransom payments) from the families of people they arrest. There is also some outright theft. When the government tries to move in there are some tense stand-offs and sometimes gunfire. The government forces, usually outnumbered, retreat. But now the government often has the aid of many local civilians, willing to come out in large numbers to defy the militia. This only works if the government has security personnel available to take over a town or neighborhood. The government often does not have the personnel available.

American FBI investigators are still waiting in Tripoli for permission to go to Benghazi to investigate the compound where the American ambassador was killed on the 11th. Libyan police didn't do much investigating at the scene but journalists were all over it, picking up all sorts of stuff (like the ambassadors personal journal). The FBI is stuck in Tripoli because the government believes it isn't safe in Benghazi. The U.S. has withdrawn some staff from the embassy in Tripoli but says these people will be returning soon. American intelligence agencies, using data from a wide variety of sources, believe the attack on the American ambassador was planned in advance to commemorate September 11th , avenge the death of Osama bin Laden, and generally enhance the prestige of al Qaeda and other Islamic radical groups in Libya. That backfired and the Libyans have a list of the usual suspects. While some of these people fled Benghazi, the Libyans did arrest several dozen and have interrogated them. It's unclear how much cooperation is going on between the Libyans and American intelligence agencies. The U.S. government is now extremely reluctant to have any more personnel killed or wounded in Benghazi. This is partially because the American government initially tried to explain away the September 11th attack as a response to an American anti-Islam film, even though Libyan officials early on advised that this was not the case. There were plenty of Libyan witnesses to the attack to confirm that the attack was planned and carried out like a military operation. One thing U.S. intelligence officials and their Libyan counterparts agree on was that the attack was the work of Libyan Islamic radical group. The Libyans are insistent on the attack having been organized by Libyan radicals, not foreigners. This won't be known for sure until there is some kind of trial.

NATO has offered advisors and trainers to assist the Libyan security forces in getting organized, so that they can deal with the militia problem once and for all. The Libyans have not yet responded to this offer. The government still lacks the trained manpower in its security forces to remove and replace over a hundred militias. Some of these militias are pro-Kaddafi and rule towns in the interior that always backed Kaddafi. The armed men in those towns agreed to stop fighting in support of Kaddafi (after Kaddafi was killed last year) but, in practice, have not surrendered. Putting these groups out of action and replacing them with government administration could be messy. In the coastal cities many militias have turned into criminal gangs and will remain as such even if they are forced to cease operating in the open as militias. One of the most contentious issues is ownership of property (land, businesses, vehicles, valuables) belonging to Kaddafi, his family, and cronies. Some militias have taken over these properties and are reluctant to let go.

September 25, 2012:  A Libyan rebel (Omran Shaaban) who helped seize Moamar Kaddafi last year has died in a Paris hospital. Shaaban and three companions were kidnapped by a militia two months ago and, although eventually freed (via direct intervention by the Libyan president), received injuries that he eventually died from. Because Shaaban had received so much publicity for his role in taking Kaddafi, and had subsequently gone to work for the new government, his death was seen as another example of how the militias were out of control.

Meanwhile, outside a government building in Tripoli, two groups of militiamen, demanding more money and privileges from the government, got into a fight with each other that escalated to a gun battle. There were some injuries before police could break it up.  

September 23, 2012: The government managed to replace the leaders of two of the largest militias in Benghazi with military officers. These new leaders will try to demobilize the militias. Several smaller Islamic radical militias have been persuaded (or compelled) to disband. The government has also ordered all militias to leave military and police bases unless they have explicit government permission to be there.

September 22, 2012: The government ordered the disbanding of "illegitimate" militias. Who is illegitimate is subject to debate but apparently means any militia that has been openly defying the government, especially the pro-Kaddafi ones controlling some towns in the interior.

In Benghazi large crowds continued to march on Islamic radical militia compounds and demand that the groups flee and disband. The crowds were basically pro-democracy and angry that the Islamic radical groups have kept insisting that democracy was un-Islamic and illegitimate (especially after the Islamic radicals did so poorly in recent elections).

September 21, 2012: In Benghazi large (over 20,000 people) crowds forced two Islamic radical militias to abandon their bases which were then looted. The second base attacked was actually held by a pro-government Islamic radical militia that had permission to be there. In trying to defend the base (and its large supply of weapons) at least 11 were killed and 60 wounded before the militiamen fled. Six of the dead were bodyguards of an army colonel, who was apparently kidnapped.

September 17, 2012:  The government replaced the two officials responsible for security in Benghazi and vowed to do something about all the militias in Benghazi and throughout the country.




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