Libyans cheer Qaddafi's death, but difficulties ahead may be sobering

The day after Muammar Qaddafi was killed, Libyans are celebrating – but a tough road lies ahead for the country, which has little experience with self-governance.

Sang Tan/AP
Libyans react to the death of Muammar Qaddafi outside the Libyan Embassy in London, Thursday.

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The day after former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi was captured and killed, the new government – and the rest of the world – are trying to put together exactly what happened. Murky facts on the ground – a problem almost since the outset of the uprising in February 2011 – could complicate what will be a difficult transition to democracy.

Amid the chaos, several narratives are surfacing. What is known: Qaddafi was killed and he was hiding in Sirte.

Some stories have him wounded or killed in an airstrike while traveling away from Sirte in a convoy, some have him caught hiding in a drainage pipe and killed in a scuffle after being dragged out. He may been killed in crossfire, or he may have been executed after being captured. Some accounts combine all these possibilities, with Qaddafi being wounded in an airstrike on his convoy, fleeing to hide in a drainage pipe, and being killed (either intentionally or unintentionally, it is unclear) after being dragged out of the pipe.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) is expected to make a formal declaration of liberation on Saturday, according to BBC News. It has a daunting to-do list: Figure out how to distribute the country's vast oil wealth, previously mostly funneled into the pockets of the Qaddafi family and those close to it, and turn the country's tribal, ethnic, and regional factions into a cohesive, peaceful democracy.

Qaddafi's death is by no means the end of Libya's struggle, Monitor reporter Dan Murphy wrote Thursday.

There are still risks ahead in Libya. Armed guerrillas will have to be decommissioned or incorporated into a new army under some kind of central government control. The country is littered with petty tyrants and Qaddafi functionaries. It would be naive to expect some revenge taking won't happen. But keeping that tamped down and, as much as possible, sending a message to the thousands of Libyans who went along to get along with Qaddafi's regime that they can find a place in the new Libya, will be vital to bringing peace. If Libya goes down the road that the US and its local allies pursued in Iraq in 2003 – with tens of thousands of officials in Saddam Hussein's Baath party tossed out of their jobs in the Army and the civil service, that could be a sign of more trouble to come.

The BBC reports that NATO is expected to announce an end to its Libya mission today.

The NTC this summer laid out a 20-month timeline for the country's democratic transition, beginning with an expansion of the interim NTC to include representatives from across the country. It would continue running the country for eight months, until elections could be held, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The elections would put in place an interim government that would draft a constitution. Finally, a full-fledged election to choose the members of a permanent government would be held.

But the NTC has appeared reluctant to devolve any power away from its current group of officials, who hail mostly from eastern Libya where the revolution began and Qaddafi was first ousted, WSJ reports.

The situation in Libya – a country making its own decisions for the first time in decades – has prompted many comparisons to post-Saddam Iraq. Murphy writes that there are reasons to be optimistic that Libya won't go down that path.

The good news for Libya is that its infrastructure is in much better shape now than Iraq's was in 2003 after a decade-plus of sanctions and the shock and awe air campaign that preceded the US-led invasion. The country is more homogeneous than Iraq. And of course much smaller. Before the uprising, Libya's annual oil exports were worth about $40 billion. That's more than $6,000 a year for every one of Libya's 6.5 million people.

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