Libya: With Peace Comes Daily Combat Casualties


June 14, 2012:  The NTC (National Transitional Council) is dealing with a divided country. There is no real central government in Libya, and many parts of the country are not ruled at all but are in chaos because of disputes between local militias. However, the major urban areas are run quite effectively by militia coalitions (or understandings) and local businessmen. The cities of Tripoli (the capital), Misarata, Zintan, and Benghazi are all relatively peaceful and bustling. Misarata, the city that suffered the most during the rebellion against Kaddafi, was the first city to hold local elections last February.  Misarata is also the largest container port, and locals repaired that facility and are running it 24/7. To the surprise of shipping companies, the numerous bribes and bureaucracy typical of the Misarata port for decades are gone. The corruption may return but for the moment the locals are proud of it and the importers and shipping companies are making the most of it. Misarata is also important because it contains about half the militia gunmen in the country. Any new national government will have to convince Misarata that the new rulers are fit to rule Misarata.

Tripoli, Zintan, and Benghazi are also rebuilding, again because of a lack of corrupt bureaucracy and the energy of local entrepreneurs. Many Libyans fear that the old, corrupt, and incompetent form of government will return, but for the moment are enjoying the freedom to just get on with their lives.

The militias were often formed by traditional tribal leaders, or just some local guy who was charismatic enough to organize his own little army during last year's rebellion. Getting these gunmen to disarm has proved difficult but not impossible. The required negotiations take weeks or months, and the NTC does not have enough qualified negotiators to speed up the process. Another problem with the NTC is that it is quickly adopting many of the harsh rules and laws of the Kaddafi era. For example, the NTC tried to enforce a law making it illegal to criticize the NTC. That did not go over well and the NTC had to back off.  Meanwhile, many of the existing militias appear unwilling to disband and will fight with anyone who gets in their way.  In the last three days there have been over 50 casualties, all over the country, from this tribal or militia fighting. The militia violence can break out at any time, mainly because you have several untrained and undisciplined young men with weapons and an attitude.

The NTC has formed a national police called the SSC (Special Security Committee). So far, some 60,000-strong former militiamen (and some who fought for Kaddafi) have joined. The pay is high and regular, but leadership is largely amateur. The SSC is not welcome in Misrata and Zintan and has its hands full dealing with independent militias in Tripoli and Benghazi. The SSC is also trying to arrange an end to fighting between black African and Arab tribes around the southeastern town of Kufra. This has been going on for months and has left over 200 dead so far. The fighting has been getting worse in the last few weeks. The disputes are largely about control of water and land and are part of centuries old animosity between the Arabs and black Africans. The two tribes involved have a long history of conflict.

Another source of violence, which the SSC has been less successful against, are Islamic radical groups in eastern Libya. Some of these groups want to turn Libya into a religious dictatorship and declare war against the non-Moslem world. These Islamic radicals have attacked Westerners in the area and were responsible for desecrating World War II era graves of Western soldiers. All this is a big embarrassment for the NTC, which knows it needs to work with the West (to sell the oil and import goods and services). At the same time, the NTC does not want the local Islamic radicals to declare war on the NTC.  The SSC may eventually have to go to war with these Islamic terror groups and trigger a round of terrorist violence.

Most Libyans want their Kaddafi-era welfare state back but bigger and better. Kaddafi held power for so long, despite his bizarre behavior and mismanagement, by spending over half the oil income on a shabby, but effective enough, welfare state. Anyone who misbehaved had their benefits cut off. Kaddafi would also cut benefits for the extended family of those who opposed him. This was a remarkably effective way to run a police state. With Kaddafi and his secret police gone, people want their welfare state and not a shabby one either. But without control of the entire country, the interim government has no way to deliver the expected goodies. Then there's the corruption, with many militia leaders inclined to grab local welfare funds for themselves. The new Libya is a work in progress and will probably continue to be one for some time.

The oil industry has been left alone and has recovered from the damage inflicted during last year's rebellion. Production is now 1.5 million barrels a day, just short of the pre-war level of 1.6 million. The pre-war level is to be hit soon. From there, production will be increased, over the next three years, to three million barrels a day, a level not seen in Libya since the 1970s. To do this the NTC (and whatever national government is elected by the end of the year) has to get the banking system stabilized and make the country safe enough to attract foreign investors. Doubling oil output will cost $30 billion and a lot of that money will have to be borrowed. That's because much of the current oil revenue has to be used to provide public services. The sales price for oil has fallen below $90 a barrel and this is hurting the Libyan reconstruction.

June 12, 2012: The national elections, that were supposed to take place June 19th, have been moved to early July because of logistical problems setting up the voting stations and recruiting people to run the operation. These elections are for members of the Public National Conference, which will create a new interim government to replace the NTC and then create a new constitution, followed by elections for parliament and a president.

June 7, 2012: Two members of the ICC (International Criminal Court) team (an Australian lawyer and Lebanese interpreter) were arrested when they showed up in Zintan to discuss having the ICC prosecute Seif al Islam Kaddafi, the son of the former dictator. The local militias want to prosecute Seif, not trusting anyone else to do it right. The ICC has not made itself popular in Libya by claiming superior authority to prosecute Seif. The ICC personnel are still being held, and this may go on for weeks.

June 4, 2012: About 200 members of the al Awfea Brigade militia forced their way into the Tripoli airport and shut it down. The al Awfea men were demanding that their leader, arrested by the NTC, be released. Pro-NTC militiamen showed up and after 24 hours the al Awfea men were forced out of the airport, with only ten injured.



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