Libya: “The real war starts now”?

Despite speculation that Moammar Qaddafi is onboard the convoy that arrived across the desert from Libya to Niger yesterday, an NTC source said Sept. 7 that the fugitive strongman has been determined to be at an unnamed desert location within Libyan territory. The claim comes from Anis Sharif, spokesman for Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who is the chairman of the Tripoli Military Committee and the leader of one of the biggest NTC-aligned militias. “We are waiting for the right moment to move in and in the meantime we are tracking his movements,” Sharif said. “He doesn’t have a very strong protection with him, not as much protection as we had expected. He only moves at night to avoid NATO air strikes.” He said that NTC forces had advanced to within 40 miles of the location and had surrounded the area. (NYT, Sept. 7) Meanwhile, conflicted reports are emerging from the oasis town of Bani Walid, one of the last Qaddafi strongholds, now ringed by NTC forces. Local tribal elders said to be representing the occupying Qaddafi-loyalists in talks reportedly agreed to a peaceful transfer of the town to NTC forces—but were also reported to be fired on by the Qaddafi forces during the talks outside the town. (AFP, Sept. 8)

A pessimistic view of Libya’s imminent future is offered by Pepe Escobar in a piece entitled “Libya: The real war starts now” on Asia Times Sept. 7:

Everyone in Libya is now virtually armed to its teeth. The economy is paralyzed. A nasty catfight over who will control Libya’s unfrozen billions of dollars is already on.

The Obeidi tribe is furious with the TNC as there’s been no investigation over who killed rebel army commander Abdul Fattah Younis on July 29. The tribals have already threatened to exact justice with their own hands.

Chief suspect in the killing is the Abu Ubaidah bin Jarrah brigade—a hardcore Islamic fundamentalist militia that has rejected NATO intervention and refused to fight under the TNC, branding both TNC and NATO as “infidels”.

Then there’s the drenched-in-oil question; When will the Libya Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)-al-Qaeda nebula organize their own putsch to take out the TNC?

All over Tripoli, there are graphic echoes of militia hell in Iraq. Former US Central Intelligence Agency asset and former “war on terror” detainee, General Abdelhakim Belhaj— issued from the Derna circle, the ground zero of Islamic fundamentalism in Libya – is the leader of the brand new Tripoli Military Council.

Accusations have already been hurled by other militias that he did not fight for the “liberation” of Tripoli so he must go—whether or not the TNC says so. This essentially means that the LIFG-al-Qaeda nebula sooner or later may be fighting an arm of the upcoming guerrilla war—against the TNC, other militias, or both.

In Tripoli, rebels from Zintan, in the western mountains, control the airport. The central bank, Tripoli’s port and the Prime Minister’s office are being controlled by rebels from Misrata. Berbers from the mountain town of Yafran control Tripoli’s central square, now spray-painted “Yafran Revolutionaries”. All these territories are clearly marked as a warning.

As the TNC, as a political unit, already behaves like a lame duck; and as the militias will simply not vanish—it’s not hard to picture Libya also as a new Lebanon; the war in Lebanon began when each neighborhood in Beirut was carved up between Sunnis, Shi’ites, Christian Maronites, Nasserites and Druse.

The Lebanonization of Libya, on top of it, includes the deadly Islamic temptation—which is spreading like a virus all across the Arab Spring.

Well, Libya is actually not the ethnic and sectarian patchwork that Lebanon is, and what Escobar really seems to predict is a three-way war between Western-backed proxy forces, al-Qaeda-backed jihadis, and militantly independent Berbers (and other Libyans concerned with defending their hard-won freedom). If this is how it shakes out, we certainly know whose side we’ll be on.

As we noted back in March:

[T]he Libyan opposition does indeed seem to be a “hodge-podge”: In one corner, a small coterie of aspiring bourgeois-democratic technocrats (now in ascendance thanks to deals being quietly made in Paris and Washington); in the other, a few fanatical cells of jihadi types…and in the middle, a very large swath of very angry Libyans who have no particular ideological commitment but basically secular and progressive instincts. These are the people we must root for.

This assessment has not changed.

See our last post on the struggle in Libya.

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