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Good Reads: Qaddafi's African mercenaries, Tripoli's water, and Mexican gangs

Today's must reads include an interview with a mercenary in Timbuktu; Qaddafi's control of water pipelines; and how a US government policy to arm Mexican gangs may have backfired.

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But while all attention focuses on the imminent battle to come in Sirte, there is a different battle rebels will have to face 400 miles to the south in the Libyan desert. This will be a battle over control of the flow of drinking water. David Elders, a reporter for the McClatchy newspaper agency, tells us how Qaddafi’s continued control of underground water sources – piped to the coast via Qaddafi’s “Man Made River” project – present the rebel forces’ greatest challenge.

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Mr. Enders writes:

“As water lines run dry and prices for bottled water skyrocket, Tripoli's burgeoning water crisis reveals the limitations of the rebel leadership, which still must consolidate its control over vast parts of the country even as it tries to exert its authority over a shortage-plagued capital.”

“Fakher Badr, a member of the rebel National Transitional Council's stabilization team in Tripoli, said that he knew of no plans for securing southern oil and water facilities, and that his committee was only just beginning its work after arriving in Tripoli last week.

“For now, he said, trucking in bottled water will have to do.”

Fast and Furious fallout

And in today’s annals of gung-ho law-enforcement, Will Oremus of Slate Magazine recounts how the US government attempted to fight Mexican drug gangs by proxy, giving American weapons to rival Mexican drug gangs. He points out an earlier investigative report in which the Los Angeles Times found that “Operation Fast and Furious,” as the guns-to-gangs program was called, continued even after it emerged that nearly 2,000 guns had gone missing.

Surely, it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. But given Mexico’s current spate of violence, more recently with the shootout and fire at a packed casino in Monterrey, news that the US government may have fomented that violence further by arming drug gangs is, in a word, awkward.

Part of the problem, Mr. Oremus points out, is that the US government agency in charge of the operation – the Bureau for Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) – has not had a director since 2006. Neither the Bush nor the Obama administration has been able to name a new director because of the lobbying power of gun-rights groups in Washington.

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