x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ghost of post-war Iraq feared as new Libya takes shape

Western powers aim not to repeat "fundamental mistake' made in post-war Iraq by ensuring partners work together on peaceful transition for Libya

LONDON // The failure of post-invasion planning in Iraq is haunting Western powers as they contemplate Libya's future without Col Muammar Qaddafi.

Talks over what happens next in Libya would be held in Dubai this week between representatives of the National Transitional Council (NTC) and officials from the UAE, United States, Qatar, Britain and Jordan.

Officials in Washington have told Reuters that one idea was for the UAE, Jordan and Qatar to contribute to "a bridging force" up to 2,000 strong, to be deployed in Libya immediately after Col Qaddafi's removal to oversee a peaceful transition to the interim government.

A senior diplomat in London, told The National yesterday: "The fundamental mistake in Iraq was that existing structures of civil authority were dismantled without any real plan of what to put in their place. We must not make the same mistake again.

"The US, Europe and our Arab partners will be offering all practical assistance possible. It will be effective help but, also, as unobtrusive as possible."

Barack Obama, the US president, said in a statement from Martha's Vineyard, where he was on holiday, that the US would "stay in close coordination with the TNC". He added: "We will continue to work with our allies and partners in the international community to protect the people of Libya, and to support a peaceful transition to democracy."

It was a message echoed by David Cameron, the UK prime minister, who interrupted his family holiday in Cornwall yesterday to chair a meeting of the National Security Council on post-Qaddafi planning.

Afterwards, he insisted that the job of rebuilding the country would be a "Libyan-led and a Libyan-owned process with broad international support coordinated by the United Nations".

A spokesman for Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, said that trade sanctions against Libya would remain in place temporarily, although Mr Cameron pledged that Libyan assets in the UK would soon be unfrozen for post-conflict reconstruction.

He also said that Britain would be offering the NTC medical and food supplies, and help in restoring communications and utilities services.

Such action would be essential to tackle the plethora of problems facing the country, not least of which was to get the oil flowing again.

Nato would also be anxious to round up the weapons - ranging from automatic rifles and Soviet-era rocket launchers, to ground-to-air missiles and even mustard gas - that have fallen into the hands of diverse factions within Libya, just as they did in Iraq.

Although the rebels have now asked Nato to cease its air operations, an official quoted by the Wall Street Journal yesterday said they would continue for now, ready to protect civilians loyal to the Qaddafi regime from any retribution.

Aside from traditional rivalries between the two halves of the country, which have intensified over the course of the rebellion, tribal divisions exploited by Col Qaddafi in a bid to retain power would also have to be reconciled.

And the nation's civil institutions and infrastructure, which were in a poor state even before the uprising, would have to be maintained and rebuilt while an environment for democratic elections was created.

Shashank Joshi, a specialist in international relations at Harvard University, identified three immediate security problems in a paper for the London-based defence think tank, the Royal United Services Institute.

First, he said, there was a need for the NTC to establish its authority over competing rebel groups. Second, the new government must mend fences with the Warfalla, Tarhuna, Magarha and Warshafana tribes.

"It is naive to imagine that long-simmering tribal grievances, some of which have been considerably sharpened by the war, will not prove incredibly divisive," he said.

"Lastly, could Islamists hijack the revolution? This is almost certainly an overblown fear. Islamists are fighting alongside rebel forces (but) it is absurd to compare them to the battle-hardened and well-funded Islamists of Afghanistan or to imply that they have substantive ties to Al Qaeda.

"Disarming these and other militias will be a crucial task for any provisional government, but no more a priority than the re-establishment of economic normality and fuel exports."

 

dsapsted@thenational.ae