21 October 2011
Professor Gareth Stansfield
(Former Chatham House Expert)


The similarities between the capture of Muammar Gaddafi in a drainage culvert in Sirte and the dragging of Saddam Hussein out of a hole in Tikrit are stark, but will Libya's post-Gaddafi trajectory be different, in terms of being more stable, secure, and ultimately prosperous, than Iraq’s post-Saddam experience? 

In a very considerable way, the lessons of Iraq clearly have not been learned very well, to date. The National Transition Council has proved to be unable to limit the worst excesses of its various militias, much as the Iraqi leadership failed to do which led to one of the most devastating civil wars seen in the region in recent years. 

Make no mistake, while not wracked with the Sunni-Shi'a cleavage which divided Iraq in the years following Saddam’s downfall, Libya still has to contend with there being a range of political groupings. Some of these are regionally based, such as between Benghazi and Tripoli, with some commentators reflecting, perhaps too romantically, that these map on to older provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. 

Perhaps more importantly are the groupings that have emerged during the civil war period within the rebel forces. Warfighters in a post-revolutionary setting often expect to have a say in how the country will be run, and Libya will be no different. Expect to see the rebels of the Nafuza mountains, and especially those of Misurata, making demands. 

In addition, the West will have to deal with previous foes in the form of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, now rebranded as the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change. With some Libyan Islamists once fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia, there is every chance that the new Libyan government could contain figures distinctly distasteful to Western governments’ palates. 

Can the NTC, or whatever interim government formation that may emerge in the heady days ahead for Libya, cope with the levels of political gaming that will now undoubtedly break out in the months to come? It is of course possible – there will be a great deal of effort put into Libya by the international community to stabilize what is clearly going to be a fragile situation for some time to come. However, the evidence of Iraq suggests that Libya’s trials may only just be beginning as the lessons of state-building in post-conflict situations are still being learned the hard way.

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Libya Working Group