Lessons from Iraq for Libya? Don't do what the US did.
And remember that it is a very different place.
Libya's war looks like it's going to rage on for some days yet. Though much of Tripoli is now in rebel control, there was heavy fighting in parts of the city today, a chaotic and lawless situation persists on some of the roads around the city, and cities like Muammar Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte and Sabha in the country's deep south appear to remain in the hands of regime loyalists.Skip to next paragraph
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But by the time an angry citizenry has rifled through the sock drawers and wardrobes of a tyrant's palaces it's almost always too late for him to stage a successful comeback. The National Transitional Council (NTC) has offered a $1.7 million bounty on Qaddafi – and amnesty for any regime figure that brings him in – in an effort to accelerate the cracking of regime solidarity.
NTC leaders are holding a flurry of international meetings – in Paris, Doha, and Istanbul – this week to get some of Qaddafi's billions that are currently locked up in foreign banks released to them so they can put that money to work building interim legitimacy. It's a reasonable time to look at what comes next.
For Americans, obsessed as we are with projecting our own experiences on the rest of the world, the starting analogy for answering questions about what to do with Libya is often Iraq.
But there the similarities end – most obviously in the fact that the troops who took Tripoli are entirely indigenous guerrillas, not US soldiers. The rebel's near-victory would not have been possible without NATO – largely French – air assaults on Qaddafi's troops and command centers (the language in the United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 that air strikes would be only used to "protect civilians" notwithstanding), but the Libyan rebellion owns this victory in a way that the Iraqis never did.
There are also vast social and cultural differences, most notably the far greater homogeneity of Libyan society, which is overwhelming comprised of ethnic Arabs who adhere to Sunni Islam. Iraq, with its majority Shiite population long treated as second-class citizens by the Sunni minority that Mr. Hussein's Baath regime drew from, had the risk of sectarian conflict built into its DNA. The large Kurdish minority in northern Iraq, an area already autonomous thanks to a NATO no-fly-zone imposed after the first Gulf War, created another front for potential ethnic conflict.
And the fall of Hussein, who had been a staunch opponent of theocratic Iran, put the country in play for the geopolitical games of Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two great regional powers it lies between. Both the Saudis and the Iranians backed sectarian militias inside the country, helping to feed Iraq's bloody civil war.
So Libya is in a slightly safer geographic neighborhood, with Egypt to the east and Tunisia to the west still digesting the popular uprisings that toppled their own long-standing dictators. Libya's long-suppressed Berber minority in the west of the country have been enthusiastic supporters of the revolution and are expecting a better deal in a new Libya. There are also smaller groups of Tuareg- and Toubou-speakers, but by and large Libya is far less diverse than Iraq.