Crucial moments to save the peace in Libya

The National Transitional Council needs to take heed from mistakes made in Iraq as it races towards a new regime.

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    I don't really like to make too many comparisons. Every country is different and so are the political dynamics behind every conflict. 

    But as I report events from Tripoli live on Al Jazeera, I can not help recalling the events of April 2003. 

    I had spent a month in the Palestine Hotel, as Baghdad was bombarded from the air. My thoughts are with my friends and colleagues now being held in Tripoli's Rixos hotel, which has become one of the flashpoints in this latest conflict.

    In Iraq in 2003, so many mistakes were made. Thousands of ordinary Iraqis, government officials as well as security and military personnel, were alienated and then excluded from the political process.

    This time, there is one very big difference: there is no foreign invading army.

    But the NTC of Libya still face a difficult balancing act. They will want to prosecute those members of the old regime who are guilty of murder and other war crimes.

    However, there is a real danger in creating a culture of vengeance. 

    Gaddafi was in power for over 40 years - almost every family has some link with his government over that time.

    There are many who protested and then fought against the regime in the last six months. There are others who defiantly backed Gaddafi, and will do so until the very end.

    The real test, though, is winning over those still undecided. Most Libyans have only known one leader.

    Many, particularly older people, will be unnerved by the loss of stability and security they had always taken for granted. To be convinced, they will want to see an improvement in the security situation in a very short time period.

    Normal life must return quickly - with the restoration of power and water supplies, shops reopening and an improvement of medical services.

    The new rulers will have to try to collect all the weapons, which came from both foreign backers, and from Gaddafi's massive arms storage depots. A new police force, perceived as honest and fair by all, will need to be established.

    The NTC claims to be representative, but its leading members were not elected. People will want to see the announcement of a strict timetable towards elections.

    Libya's complex tribal structure needs to be respected. Even those tribes seen as strongly backing Gaddafi will have to be included, in some way, in a new system.

    In 2003, the US and its allies won the war against Saddam. But they lost the peace - in just a matter of weeks.

    The clock is ticking as opposition leadership try to convince the people of Libya that this is a real change for the better.


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