Libya: Fighting Over Plunder And Power


October 24, 2011: With Kaddafi dead, the next battles involve organizing a functional government, deciding what type of government, and avoiding a civil war between dozens of armed, and independent minded factions. Foreign supporters, especially in the West, have suddenly, and not surprisingly, turned hostile. Libyans who apparently executed Kaddafi, and his followers, after capture are being threatened with prosecution for war crimes. Western and Moslem nations who supported the NTC are fearful that better organized and more fanatic Islamic radical factions will take over the government, and establish another dictatorship, this time one based just on religion, not one man's megalomania. Another feared option is civil war, because regional loyalties are seen as more potent than religious ones. The major splits are between the east (centered on Benghazi) and west (Tripoli) along the coast (where most of the population has always lived). The third region is the dry, but oil-rich interior. Here the population is largely Berber and Tuareg (nomadic tribes in southern Libya). There are people from the coast, who comprise most of the Libyan work force in the oil fields. The people of the interior are further split by past loyalties. The Berbers hated Kaddafi, while the Tuaregs were better treated and remained loyal to the end.

In addition to civil war, there is retribution, which has been occurring more frequently as the Kaddafi forces lost ground. The revenge attacks were particularly evident in Sirte, the coastal town of 100,000 that was Kaddafi's birthplace and was full of his well-cared for supporters. Sirte was heavily damaged, and looted, during the final battle. Most of the population fled the fighting, and when they return they will find a much less prosperous lifestyle. This is what will motivate a lot of people to oppose the new government, and that will cause lasting bitterness. This will be prolonged by the fact that clans and tribes supported Kaddafi, and these groups often occupy specific areas. Here, armed opponents of the government can find shelter and support.

It's not just the desire for revenge that is a problem, but how it plays out. You don't appreciate how valuable law and order is until you don't have it. The NTC has already had problems with some of the dozens of militias refusing to take orders from anyone. If some form of order is not established, that's how the new war will begin; with warlords and their armed followers fighting over plunder and power.  There is a widespread desire for vengeance against the ten percent of the population that formed Kaddafi's core supporters. These families grew prosperous in Kaddafi's service, and now they face economic and social ruin. But who will get what from the unprotected Kaddafi followers?

The NTC has gotten a lot of cash, weapons and advice from Qatar, and oil rich Kuwait. The Arab Gulf States are flooding Tripoli with advisors, people who speak the language, understand the culture and want to help establish a new Libya that is peaceful, not another threat to Arab nations and the rest of the world. This may be the most crucial foreign aid effort in post-Kaddafi Libya.

Establishing law and order is only one of many urgent tasks facing the NTC. While the oil is flowing again, and in every increasing quantity there is an acute labor shortage. Many of the management and technical people who made things work have fled. Many of these key people were foreigners. While it is common for oil rich Arab states to import foreigners to run their economies, Kaddafi preferred foreigners for many government jobs, apparently because he found the foreigners more trustworthy (or easier to get rid of). Now the NTC finds itself with a big shortage of skilled managers and techies. Nothing happens if you give orders and there's no one able to carry them out. Just getting electricity and water supply working again has been difficult. There's an even more poignant problem with thousands of wounded NTC fighters, who have not been able to get the medical care they need.

October 23, 2011: Interim NTC (National Transitional Council) leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil announced that the new Libya would be a democracy based on Islamic law. This was said during a ceremony officially recognizing the liberation of Libya from Kaddafi. The problem now is to determine what Libya will become.

Many factions have gone to Tripoli, or sent part of their forces there. For the rebels, Tripoli is the prize. Not only is it the capital, but it contains the homes and assets of many Kaddafi supporters. What these people own is considered loot for the rebel fighters, and the looting has been going on for several weeks now. Efforts to establish law and order have been weak. Last month, a former Islamic radical leader (Abdullah Ahmed Naker) announced that he had formed the Tripoli Revolutionists Council, backed by 73 militias and over 20,000 gunmen. This new force would police the city and impose law and order. It is unclear how much of that announcement is puffery, and how much is real. Naker claims he is operating under the authority of the NTC, but other militia groups claim they have authority in Tripoli. There have been threats and some heated arguments between the rival militias, but no large-scale fighting, yet.

A video was broadcast, on a pro-Kaddafi Syrian TV station, showing Moamar Kaddafi's son Motassim captured and alive. The next day, the NTC denied that they had Motassim. Now it appears that he was captured and executed.

October 20, 2011: Attempting to flee Sirte in a convoy, Kaddafi was forced out of his vehicle by a NATO bomb and took cover. But soon NTC gunmen found and captured him. About fifty Kaddafi followers were killed or captured (and then usually killed) during the failed escape attempt. Moamar Kaddafi and his son Motassim were declared dead in Sirte. The cell phone camera, which had proved so valuable in getting the news of Kaddafi brutality to the rest of the world, now documented how Kaddafi and his son, and several supporters, were also murdered after their capture.

October 19, 2011: In Sirte, NTC gunmen launched another major assault on Kaddafi supporters. This time, thanks to precision NATO bombing, and a dwindling number of Kaddafi fighters, the only remaining neighborhood seemed likely to be cleared.  

October 17, 2011: The other major Kaddafi stronghold, Bani Walid (a town of 50,000, some 150 kilometers southeast of Tripoli), has been captured. The remaining Kaddafi supporters fled, but NTC gunmen are searching the town for any armed Kaddafi supporters who have gone into hiding.

October 15, 2011: Fighting with Kaddafi supporters continued in Tripoli. There was also tension between militia coalitions over who had police authority in Tripoli. It was believed that less than a dozen armed Kaddafi supporters were involved, and affluent neighborhoods housing Kaddafi supporters were being searched by NTC gunmen.

October 14, 2011: In Tripoli, a few dozen Kaddafi supporters marched in support of the dictator. NTC militiamen sought to disperse the crowd, and gunfire broke out.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close