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Issue #1614      October 16, 2013

Libya:

America’s new playground

Those Libyans – they sure are ungrateful. One would think that after having been bombed into chaos by NATO warplanes, and left to watch their country fall increasingly into the hands of radical Islamist guerrilla groups, the country’s new leaders would be a little more appreciative of Western governments’ ability to wield power at will.

Instead, they’re learning what it means to be a satrap of the US.

According to a report on MSN.com, Libyan officials are “bristling” over a recent US special forces raid in Tripoli that resulted in the capture of Abu Anas al-Libi, an alleged extremist suspected of involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Secretary of State John Kerry boasted after the raid that “this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in the effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror.”

The Libyan government sees it differently:

“In a statement Sunday, the Libyan government said it asked the US for ‘clarifications’ about what it called the ‘kidnapping’, underlining that its citizens should be tried in Libyan courts if accused of a crime. It said it hoped its ‘strategic partnership’ with Washington would not be damaged by the incident.”

A New York Times report paints a grimmer picture:

“Libya’s fragile interim government condemned the United States on Sunday for what it called the ‘kidnapping of a Libyan citizen’ from this capital city a day earlier, and Libyan lawmakers threatened to remove the prime minister if the government was involved.”

Such strong language suggests that all is far from well in Libya, an image confirmed by MSN’s candid description of conditions there:

“Libya’s central government remains weak, and armed militias – many of them made up of Islamic militants – hold sway in many places around the country, including in parts of the capital. Amid the turmoil, Libyan authorities have been unable to move against militants...Libyan security officials themselves are regularly targeted by gunmen. The latest victim, a military colonel, was gunned down in Benghazi on Sunday.”

Clearly the Libyan government is walking a tightrope. While it struggles to maintain control even in its own capital, actions like this by the US government exacerbate a fragile situation; jihadists will happily exploit American arrogance to further destabilise an already weak government and consolidate their control.

After the raid, dozens of members of the Islamic group Ansar al-Sharia, which is known to have ties to violent militias, protested with black flags in Benghazi, denouncing the abduction and criticising the government. Militants have already vowed revenge against the government.

“[S]ome Libyans angry at the raid expressed exasperation at their government’s failures to bring any measure of security to its people,” reports the Times, adding that the Libyan government “has been unable to finalise a system to elect a constitutional assembly, to ensure the flow of oil that is the lifeblood of the Libyan economy, and even to protect its own government buildings from periodic siege by armed militias.”

There are even “fears of a collapsing state.”

At the same time, this weak government must kowtow to the US, whose warplanes it may well need again.

We’ve seen this pattern before – in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The results in Libya will likely be just as disastrous for the people living there.

In breaking news, gunmen from one of Libya’s many militias stormed a hotel where the prime minister has a residence and held him for several hours – apparently in retaliation for his government’s alleged collusion with the US in a raid last weekend that captured an Al-Qaeda suspect.

The seizure of Prime Minister Ali Zidan heightened the alarm over the power of militias that virtually hold the weak central government hostage. The armed bands regularly use violence to intimidate officials to sway policies, gunning down security officials and kidnapping their relatives. At the same time, the state relies on militias to act as security forces, since the police and military remain in disarray.

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