Libya 2011 is not Iraq 2003

Iraq 2003 is not the template of Libya 2011. Apart from both being headed by two remarkably nasty dictators, there is almost no similarity between the ‘liberation’ of Iraq and the current liberation of Libya.

The defining difference is that liberation was imposed by US led coalition army on Iraq.

True there is a distinct rumble of boots on the ground, and there is a decisive intervention by NATO, but the uprising was started by a spontaneous uprising in Benghazi, continued by a rag-tag army of undisciplined civilians and now headed by the NTC, a Libyan group that were not appointed by foreigners.

True also that the historic UN resolution (with five abstentions, but in themselves historic abstentions) to assist the opposition group in Libya ‘to protect civilians’ has been somewhat disingenuously stretched by NATO.

This one significant event is either completely ignored in the flurry of articles worrying that Libya will descend into ‘post liberation’ Iraq sectarian chaos, or the actions of NATO are assumed to be equivalent to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 –see today’s articles (23/08/2011) “Averting chaos of another Iraq is next task for allies” The Times, and “Libya analysis: An Iraq repeat can be avoided”  The Mirror or

However, without this foreign assistance, there can be no doubt that the opposition would have been ruthlessly crushed.  The gassing of thousands of Iraqi Kurds and marsh Arabs under Saddam Hussein’s regime was the spectre before Benghazi and Misurata.

Despite pleas from Iraqi opposition, the International community were not united enough to support it. Thus when the Coalition army did finally enter Iraq there was no effective opposition left.

Therefore, since there was no government in waiting, the Americans lead the transition through a coalition council of appointed 25 – 30 Iraqis.   And the reconstruction was spear-headed by largely American companies.

Conversely in Libya, there is an opposition government, which has been effectively running liberated areas since last February.

Another significant dissimilarity: the Iraqis can be Sunnis, Shia, Christian and Bahai.  Libyans are all Sunni.

It would be most surprising if free Libya did not have a rocky road.  The maverick Ghadafi smashed most of Libya’s infrastructure: many cities and roads have been destroyed and people traumatised in this uprising.

Whatever happens next though,  the Libyan reconstruction is not the next task for the ‘allies’.   It is the next task – for the Libyans using any expertise that they choose to employ, foreign or otherwise.  Their choices may not be those that other countries would make,  but those choices will be their own.  Not wrong, but different.

Whilst it remains to be seen that if the TNC can step up to effectively manage the transition to a new Libya, it has had a few months to learn some of the ropes.  Benghazi and other areas in rebel control are being administered; the police and army are being trained and are graduating, hospitals and schools are open.

Libya also has some trump cards in the pack, which should give hope to its people that there will be a free Libya to enjoy – and make many a country envious:

  • The oil and gas industry, on which the reconstruction of Libya depends, does have a strong infrastructure continued from King Idris’ times and can therefore be up and running fast;
  • A significant number of Libyans are graduates from universities abroad.  The strong family ties will ensure that many will return to help with the reconstruction.
  • Libya does not have a grandfathered national debt.
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