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Good Reads: Mali jihadis, and the consequences of military intervention

Military intervention toppled Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, but it also helped create a possible Islamist haven in northern Mali ... which has prompted more calls for military intervention.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / July 27, 2012

A vendor sells goods to militiamen from the Ansar Dine Islamic group stopped at a roadblock near Gao in northeastern Mali on June 18.

Adama Diarra/Reuters/File

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Spawn of Qaddafi

For many of the folks who formulate America’s foreign policy in the halls of Washington, plotting the downfall of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in October 2011 was an easy decision.

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Mr. Qaddafi was not much liked by fellow leaders in the Arab League or by fellow leaders of the African Union. This may have been because Qaddafi tended to see himself as the only true leader of both Arab nationalism and of a unified African continent. Qaddafi also funded, armed, and trained numerous rebel groups – from Darfur rebels to Malian Tuaregs – to help destabilize neighbors he either disliked, or simply wanted to overthrow.

One could see how that would get old, fast.

Yet overthrowing Qaddafi, and scattering all those armed, funded, and trained rebel groups to the four winds has also had its consequences – most notably in the West African nation of Mali. In April, Tuareg fighters of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and their Islamist allies from Ansar Dine swept through all of the cities of northern Mali and effectively declared their own republic. The weapons they used – with the exception of the ones taken from fleeing Malian soldiers – mainly came from Libya.

In Foreign Affairs, Yahia Zoubir lays out the recent history of Qaddafi’s downfall, and what the unintended consequences of military intervention could be for other conflict zones, such as Syria.

Africanistan?

Self-described realists would say, “fair enough, the Libyan intervention was messy,” but now that Islamists have taken control of two-thirds of Mali – a vast region of rock and sand in the north that is larger than France – it is time to organize another military intervention to ensure that Mali doesn’t become terrorist haven, like Afghanistan, Yemen, or Somalia.

The Islamists, Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb, are a dangerous lot, and tens of thousands of Malians have fled to other countries to avoid them. The Islamists have declared sharia law, and set about destroying ancient Tuareg and Arabic monuments, including the tombs of Muslim saints.

But, as Gregory Mann writes in this week’s Foreign Policy, there is no evidence that the Islamists have a larger agenda than northern Mali. Foreign intervention, as in Libya, may simply make matters worse.

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