Haggai Carmon: Attorney and Author

Gaddafi Is Dead: Is It the End or the Beginning of the War?

Huffington Post op Ed 10/24/2011

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal death has been confirmed, but the fear is that it doesn’t mark the end of hostilities in Libya, but the beginning of an equally brutal civil war.

You might think that there have been only two major players in Libya’s power struggle: Gaddafi’s government and the Libya Transitional National Council (TNC), the entity representing the forces that fought Gaddafi. In fact, TNC is a fragile coalition of historically rivaling tribes with conflicting interests.

The TNC was recognized by dozens of foreign states, including the U.S., Russia and France, and, in September, the UN General Assembly. These steps, along with NATO’s military support, empowered the rebels’ National Liberation Army. But that force was comprised of defected military members and civilian volunteers without an effective central command and therefore, it is an open question whether it could guarantee a smooth transition of power from Gaddafi’s loyalists to the TNC.

On the plus side, Gaddafi’s removal from power may also signal the end of many hostilities he had mongered, including with the West, and mark the end of his clandestine support of terrorist organizations. Gaddafi’s wars were a mix of politics — such as his attack on Egypt for signing a peace treaty with Israel — and economics — with its southern neighbor Chad over the control of the Aouzou Strip, an area rich in uranium deposits.

Gone, too, may be his megalomaniac wish to unite African Muslims under one political entity. In 1980 he established the Islamic Pan African Legion, a mercenary army recruited from employment seekers from Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, and Chad. The force was trained by Palestinian and Syrian instructors. The Islamic Pan African Legion was intended to include one million men and women fighters to prepare for the great Arab battle — “the battle of liberating Palestine, of toppling the reactionary regimes, of annihilating the borders, gates, and barriers between the countries of the Arab homeland, and of creating the single Arab Jamahiriya from the ocean to the gulf.” Training camps of the Legion were used also to train members of PLO, supporters of the now deposed Liberian president Charles Taylor’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF), as well as Syrian and Lebanese militias.

On February 27, 2011 the TNC was established, led by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Gaddafi’s former justice minister, to govern the regions of Libya already under rebel control. Abdul Jalil was a former judge “known for ruling consistently against the regime,” before becoming justice minister in 2007. In leaked State Department cables he is described as open and cooperative. Little surprise therefore, that when Jalil resigned, Gaddafi had offered a reward of approximately $400,000, for his capture. Finally, on June 27, 2011 the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Gaddafi, accusing him to be personally involved in implementing “a policy of widespread and systematic attacks against civilians and demonstrators and dissidents.”

So far so good? No.

Though these events may seem cause for optimism, there is even more reason for concern. The National Liberation Army and supporting fighters outside its command is in fact a loose coalition of dozens of armed militias and more than a hundred bitter enemy tribes temporarily united to topple Gaddafi. And with him dead, the road is clear for their next move: secure an influential or even a controlling position in the race to the helm of the new Libya. The stakes are huge: Libya has the 10th-largest proven oil reserves in the world and is the 17th-highest petroleum producer. It is the world’s 17th largest country by area. With Africa’s longest Mediterranean coastline, Libya controls the flow — or its arrest — of the potentially huge African refugee migration to Europe through Isola di Lampedusa, an Italian island halfway between Italy’s mainland and the Libyan shores.

Historically, Libya was divided into three major regions: Tripolitania in the north, Fezzan in the south west, and Cyrenaica in the east. The geographical and political division marks also deep cultural and economic differences and disparities among the residents of the respective regions. It was Gaddafi’s coup in 1959 that transformed Libya from a de facto federation of regions and tribes into a republic, albeit without a constitution or clear governing institutions. The successful rebellion against Gaddafi highlighted that reality. Rebels from Cyrenaica, from the Mediterranean coast city of Misurata and from the eastern city of Benghazi, fought against Gaddafi’s regime separately and independently. Rebels from Zintan captured the airport, and Berber tribesmen from Yafran occupied Tripoli’s central square, which they quickly renamed ”Yafran Revolutionaries.” The division is not merely geographic.

These anecdotal details only reflect the power vacuum in the new Libyan leadership. There are ominous signs that a struggle has already started among the factions over the question: who is to take credit for toppling Gaddafi’s regime? The first evidence of the growing tensions came when Abdel Hakim Belhaj was named commander of a newly formed Tripoli Military Council. Belhaj was the commander of a now disbanded Libyan Islamist Fighting Group, and therefore, many fear that his nomination marks a first step toward an Islamist control. National Transitional Council chief Mustafa Abdul Jalil said on September 13 that sharia (Islamic law) will be the main source of legislation. But laws will be based on “moderate Islam.” Since Gaddafi’s Libya had no constitution, it remains to be seen how Jalil will be able to unite all factions and agree on a constitution.

Then there’s the unsolved murder of the rebels’ top military commander in Benghazi, General Abdul Fattah Younes which his militia members believe was carried out by a brigade of Islamists, seeking revenge for his past as an aide to Gaddafi. The Muslim Brotherhood is also taking part in the fray competing for influence in the new government of Libya, advocating conservative and religious policies, claiming that the people of Libya oppose the Western cultures brought in by “liberals.”

Gaddafi is dead, but many of his supporters are alive, armed to their teeth and are likely to seek revenge, for their loss in the war and for Gaddafi’s killing. Among them the tribes of Qadhafah, Magariha, Al-Awaqir and Warfalla that traditionally oppose any participation of people from Cyrinaica in the Libyan government — and the Cyrinaicans comprise now the majority in the National Transitional Council. The matter is further complicated by the strong division within the TNC among the militias that control the capital city, the Berber tribe militias in western Libya, and the Muslim Brotherhood militias that are close to Al Qaeda, which control parts of Tripoli and in areas near to the Tunisian border.

With an incredible amount of guns, ammunition and explosives held by multiple militias with conflicting agenda, all you need is a spark to ignite Libya, because in the Middle East, the distance between a war of words and an exchange of live fire may be very short.

Time will tell if the transition of power will mark a new peaceful era in the history of Libya or the beginning of a civil war.