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Libya Fast Becoming the New Iraq

The fall of Gaddafi, like the fall of Saddam, unleashed simmering tribal and religious tensions

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham is greeted by Libyans upon arrival at Tripoli, October 18, 2011.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham is greeted by Libyans upon arrival at Tripoli, October 18, 2011.
Photo Credit: U.S. State Department

In Benghazi, a car bomb aimed at Libyan intelligence officials shook a crowded street. It’s not the first car bomb to strike Libya after the fall of Gaddafi. Benghazi has its own insurgency and remains a flashpoint for the looming civil war that no one is talking about.

Postwar Libya has not received the same scrutiny that postwar Iraq did. The reasons for that revolve around partisan politics and differences in commitment. American soldiers are not patrolling the streets of Benghazi the way that they did in Baghdad, and that translates into a lack of public engagement. Unlike Iraq, Libya is a back-burner issue, even if the oil-rich country is beginning to look a lot like Iraq.

The fall of Gaddafi, like the fall of Saddam, unleashed simmering tribal and religious tensions. While Libya does not have the sharp indigenous split between Sunnis and Shiites that Iraq does, the Arab Spring opened the door to Salafi violence across North Africa from Mali to Tunisia and east through Libya and as far as Egypt.

The Arab Spring uprisings have been used by the Islamists as a pretext for purging Christians in Egypt and Syria, as well as Sufis in Mali and Libya. Despite a recent election in Libya that was widely hailed as a signpost of stability, the country is in no way stable and its central authority is an illusion. Tribal warfare, even of the kind taking place in Zitan, 90 miles from Tripoli, is however a lesser evil compared to the revelation that the Libyan government either cannot stop the Salafi violence or is unwilling to do so.

Both possibilities are present and plausible. The Libyan military under Gaddafi was a patchwork of expensive equipment and incompetent troops. The loss of much of that expensive equipment in Gaddafi’s earlier wars and NATO bombing raids that targeted whatever was left over leaves the Libyan government with limited security capabilities.

The loose coalition against Gaddafi has been splintered by its own differing agendas. One of the few things that everyone agrees on is the necessity of using Islam and Islamic law to fill the gap left by Gaddafi and his charade of Libyan nationalism. If one of Gaddafi’s kin were to try and reclaim Libya, enough factions might unite together to put a stop to his efforts, but no similar coalition can be assembled to protect Libya’s Sufis or its women, the other group being targeted by the Salafis.

Libyan Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A’al has made it clear that the Salafis have a free hand to do as they please. “If all shrines in Libya are destroyed so we can avoid the death of one person,” he said, “then that is a price we are ready to pay.”

Libyan security forces have stood aside or even helped the Salafis do to Libya what the Taliban did to Afghanistan. But that is only to be expected when many members of those security forces, patched together out of bands of ambitious Jihadi fighters, are Salafis. The Interior Minister may have unilaterally ceded all of Libya’s Sufi shrines to the Salafis, but the Salafis won’t stop at destroying graves. Not when they can fill them as well.

In Tunisia and Egypt, Salafi violence has been met with similar inaction or delayed reactions from the security forces. The Muslim Brotherhood and some other Islamists distance themselves from Salafi attacks on non-Muslims or on variant Muslim groups to maintain plausible deniability while the Salafis rid them of people they consider infidels and heretics. The Salafis have foreign backing and no shortage of recruits eager to kill and maim for the cause, and the Post-Arab Spring governments are staying out of their way.

“To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and -– more profoundly -– our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are,” Obama said, in his speech defending the Libyan intervention. But what does the current state of Libya say about who we are?

The Libyan intervention handed over the country to rule by armed militias and car bombs go off in major cities. As religious, political and tribal violence reaches a boiling point; what has become of that responsibility?

Originally published by the Gatestone Institute.

About the Author: Daniel Greenfield is an Israeli born blogger and columnist, and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His work covers American, European and Israeli politics as well as the War on Terror. His writing can be found at http://sultanknish.blogspot.com/. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press.


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6 Responses to “Libya Fast Becoming the New Iraq”

  1. Great Article. Libya basically had no armed forces.(35,000 men)? It thought it was living in peace after voluntarily disarming in 2003 in negotiations with the Bush Administration. They did have a lot of old tanks. Good article – but I would say slugging it out against NATO and the Gulf Petromonarchies for 6 months certainly shows valor. So I am not sure the military analysis is accurate. Tell me exactly what expensive equipment they had to counter a NATO attack?

  2. Arie Rosenrauch says:

    chairman barack had two goals in spending $2BILLION of our US TAXPAYER funds in removing qadaffi: soros had just invested in the Exxon oil fields which qadaffi was then preparing to nationalize, and chairman barack would spare no funds or lives in securing soros' assets; second, al qaeda needed an OFFICIAL home and base in Africa since the Somalians, Kenyans, and Nigerians have said enough and are moving to destroy them (much to the chairman's chagrin).

  3. Charlie Hall says:

    NOT a great article. Ghadafi was absolutely the worst of all the Arab rulers, and that is saying something! And the "NATO attack" wasn't an attack but support for the good guys in a civil war that broke out when the Libyan people finally couldn't take the repression any more.

    I had two Libyans in my class last semester. They now love American and especially President Obama for helping them to get rid of one of the most brutal rulers in the world.

  4. What about the fact that Libya had the highest standard of living and lowest income inequality – supported many independence movements – and broke up Abu Nidal. I know his issues on Israel were odd – but at least they were non violent and unconventional. I have studied this a lot and had a stereotype conception of him dating back to the SNL satires around 1978! But Ive studied and I have a 80 page report of simply reprints of reputed sources showing this was not the case.

  5. Had Highest UN Human Development Index in Africa and nearly all of the mid east rivaling Chile and Argentina.

  6. Charlie Hall says:

    Of course Ghadafi would break up Abu Nidal — brutal despots can't have alternative thugs running around. Ghadafi invaded three neighboring countries (Saddam Hussein only invaded two!) with no justification for any of them. Ghadafi twice instigated acts of war against the US, neither of which resulted in much of a US response. And of course he sponsored mercinaries all over Africa. He was a troublemaker like few others; Reagan should have dealt with him in 1986.

    And regarding the internal situation there, you might talk to some Libyan emigres — if they are sufficiently over their trauma to communicate about things.

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