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Inside Story

Is Libya on the brink of a new civil war?

Two years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, we ask why the government struggles to rein in the country's militias.

Last Modified: 21 Oct 2013 12:04
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It has been two years since the capture and killing of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, which ended his 42-year rule.

In the immediate aftermath of Gaddafi's overthrow, there was jubilation on the streets and high hopes for a new democratic country. But the former rebel fighters who helped to oust Gaddafi are now jostling among themselves for power, and Libya still remains without a new constitution.

The post-revolution violence really comes into this notion of what are we all fighting for .... It's easy to fight if there is nobody stopping you, unless there is another rebel militia trying to stop you, and if the government is incapable of being that fair arbiter, that fair mediator in the middle that can stop sides from clashing in very violent ways.

Anas el-Gomati, the director of the Sadeq Institute

The country is flooded with weapons and violence has turned to be common. In the past year alone, more than 80 people, many of them high-ranking military and police figures, have been killed in eastern Libya.

The latest high-profile killing happened last week when the military's police commander Ahmed al-Barghathi was shot as he left a mosque in Benghazi.

Libya's Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was taken from his hotel by a group of gunmen earlier this month. He was released shortly after, but Zeidan said his abduction amounted to an attempted coup.

Adding to the latest tension was the arrest of an al-Qaeda suspect by US commandos on Libyan soil two weeks ago. The incident has fuelled outrage against the Libyan government for its alleged co-operation with Washington.

The country's prime minister recently called on western powers to help him stop the spread of what he calls 'militancy' in his country. It is a problem the government has been unable to tackle since Gaddafi was toppled.

There are more than 225,000 Libyans registered in militias. They receive state salaries but often act outisde of government control, taking orders from local or political commanders.
 
The government has tried to integrate them into the national army - without success. It has led to a situation where militias have been co-opted by the state into a semi-offical security service.

Some militias are now exploiting the power vacuum outside Tripoli and are pushing for greater regional autonomy. Groups in Libya's eastern Cyrenaica region and in the southern Fezzan region have called for independence.
 
In Cyrenaica, former rebel leader Ibrahim al-Jathran and his 20,000 men strong militia say they now run local affairs, with Jathran and his men controlling facilities that account for 60 percent of Libya's oil wealth.

Last month, a group in Fezzan also declared itself independent from the state, like their eastern counterparts, blaming the move on the 'weak performance' of Libya's central government.

Wracked by violence and economic stagnation, just how stable is the new Libya? Will the goverment be able to control the country's militias? How will Libya's battle for control impact the region? And is this the beginning of a civil war? 

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Larry Korb, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress and a former assistant US secretary of defence; Anas el-Gomati, the director of the Sadeq Institute, a non-governmental think tank; and Abdul Monem al-Yasser, Libya's chairman of national security.  

"Unfortunately the United States and its international partners who helped to overthrow Gaddafi, they just walked away from the situation. They didn't provide any aid or they didn't provide any type of troops to provide stabilisation .... It's one thing to get rid of the regime ... [but] it is much more difficult to build a functioning civil society .... They saw the price that they paid in Iraq [and the price they are] still paying in Afghanistan. Basically they don't want to pay that price ... The American people are not concerned at all about Libya."

Larry Korb, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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