Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Q&A: Gadhafi's options, future scenarios and more

The Libyan rebels' National Transitional Council includes a disparate mix of nationalists, secularists and intellectuals.
The Libyan rebels' National Transitional Council includes a disparate mix of nationalists, secularists and intellectuals
(CNN) -- As rebels in Libya made dramatic strides in Tripoli, pro-Moammar Gadhafi forces toughed it out Wednesday, striking back in volatile pockets across the city.

Get up to speed on some of the recent events in Libya, what Gadhafi may do, how united the opposition is and possible scenarios for the future as CNN's Tim Lister answers frequently asked questions on the latest:

What options does Gadhafi have, if at all? Will he be put on trial if caught?

Gadhafi has very few options left and they are diminishing all the time as his forces dwindle. It is very unlikely that he can communicate with the remnants of his loyalists in places like Sirte. He might have been in a position to strike some sort of deal allowing him free passage out of the country a month ago, but now Tripoli has fallen to the rebels and his headquarters has been overrun, he is a hunted man.

The National Transitional Council is insisting that if he is caught in Libya he will be put on trial. Its chairman, Mahmoud Jibril, told a news conference in Qatar on Tuesday: "We will provide him with a fair trial, but I have no idea how he will defend himself against these crimes that he committed against the Libyan people and the world." He said Gadhafi must be brought to justice for political assassinations, arrests and hangings.

And the spokesman for the NTC, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, told Egyptian television that Gadhafi must face trial in Libya before he can be transferred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The ICC issued arrest warrants for Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanussi in June. They are accused of crimes against humanity.

His spokesman has said Gadhafi plans to continue fighting the rebels -- for years if necessary. But to do so, he would have to stay in hiding and devise some sort of guerrilla resistance. He has few if any organized armed units at his disposal and few places that support him. There are still pockets of resistance to the NTC, with Gadhafi loyalists reported to be shelling towns west of Tripoli on Tuesday, and clashes in the Saharan town of Sabha, a Gadhafi stronghold.

In some ways Gadhafi's situation now resembles that of Iraq's Saddam Hussein after he fled Baghdad. He was on the run for nine months despite a huge U.S. military presence.

There is one ominous unknown: whether Gadhafi has procured any of Libya's stockpile of mustard gas. Western diplomats are concerned about the security of what remains of Libya's (weapons of mass destruction) program.

What will happen to Gadhafi loyalists?

Senior figures in the NTC have called for reconciliation and brotherhood, but that spirit may be difficult to inculcate among fighters on the ground. Gadhafi's mercenary forces from Africa have always been hated by Libyans. After 42 years of often brutal rule, when dissent has been crushed time and again, there is likely to be some settling of scores.

Much depends on how quickly security can be restored in Tripoli. Some loyalist commanders have already surrendered. Some human rights groups are urging Libya's new rulers to establish a truth and reconciliation commission rather than put Gadhafi supporters on trial.

At his news conference on Tuesday, Jibril, a former minister of justice in the Gadhafi regime, urged his fellow Libyans to show a sense of national purpose. "Show the world you can build a modern nation; we should prove that we are up to this revolution and are able to build a modern country," he said.

"We have to be transparent in front of the whole world. Now we have to concentrate on building and healing our wounds," Jibril said. Facts on the ground will dictate whether his appeal is heeded.

If Tripoli stays firmly in the opposition hands, is the war over? What other areas or other obstacles are they facing?

The risk to the NTC comes in two forms -- a lack of security compounded by the widespread availability of weapons and tribal/ethnic discord.

The pictures Tuesday of fighters carting heavy weaponry and boxes of ammunition from Gadhafi's Tripoli compound with no discipline were the latest example of the weaponized chaos that has overtaken Libya in recent months. A large army compound west of Tripoli was also raided over the weekend as rebels advanced on the capital.

Much depends on how quickly the NTC can instill discipline in its ranks and control who has what weapons. The other part of this equation is ensuring members of the Libyan police stay on the job and looting is prevented. The NTC is considering asking several Arab states to supply security forces to help stabilize the situation in Tripoli.

The NTC has been an uneasy coalition, and one in which western tribes have had little presence. Now it has to perform a delicate balancing act as it shifts from being a rebel movement born and headquartered in the east to being a government in waiting for all of Libya. The non-Arab Berber population of the western mountains will want autonomy and the right to revive their language and other cultural symbols. Large tribes that have been marginalized during the Gadhafi era will want a seat at the top table. And the fighters that bore the brunt of pro-Gadhafi forces' shelling in Misrata may not feel much loyalty to the political leadership in Benghazi.

Libya's new rulers also need to take drastic action to get the economy moving again, by pumping oil and ensuring roads, ports and airports are reopened to import basic supplies. Reports from Tripoli in the last few days suggest chronic shortages of some medical supplies. If they can move swiftly to improve the humanitarian situation, they will have a better chance of taking the Libyan people with them.

The NTC's stabilization group has been working for months on a transition plan, no doubt mindful of the chaos that engulfed Baghdad after Saddam Hussein was toppled. But executing this plan will demand organizational skills the rebels have yet to demonstrate.

The opposition movement is definitely gaining major ground but what about cohesiveness inside the movement? How unified are they?

The murder last month of the rebels' military chief, Abdel Fattah Younis, was the starkest evidence yet that the NTC is hardly a harmonious group. Only the quick promise of a reshuffle among its ranks prevented Younis' tribe from taking revenge.

The NTC was formed in a hurry and has a disparate mix of Libyan nationalists, secularists and intellectuals, with its center of gravity very much in the east of Libya. Younis' murder, followed by the confusion over the (non) arrest of Saif al-Islam Gadhafi has not exactly engendered confidence.

Given the long history of tension between east and western Libya, it's notable that the rebel units in the capital are largely from the west, and that there's been no march on the capital from rebel strongholds in the east.

In the NTC's favor, the United States and European governments have been wholehearted in backing it as Libya's "legitimate governing authority." The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, on Tuesday called the NTC "credible and reliable interlocutors."

The NTC will benefit from substantial technical and financial support from its supporters in the West and the Gulf. Qatar is organizing a donors' conference Wednesday with the aim of raising $2.4 billion, and the United States is moving swiftly to release $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets.

What are some possible scenarios for the next few months? Is a peaceful transition possible?

A peaceful if not perfect transition is plausible, but Libya is a huge country (1.75 million square kilometers) where all sorts of competing authorities are likely to emerge over the next few months. It's like releasing a pressure valve that's been closed for 42 years; there will be much jockeying for position. The NTC will have to show a unity of purpose and considerable finesse if it is to settle political arguments around a table rather than on the streets.

The worst-case scenario would see the NTC unable to stamp its authority on the country, and tribes organizing to protect and enrich themselves, as well as a window of opportunity opening for Islamist groups, which have had little role in the uprising but could exploit a political vacuum. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has a presence in several neighboring countries (including Algeria and Niger) and could take advantage of vast Saharan spaces should the government in Tripoli falter.

As one U.S. official put it Tuesday, there are three priorities in Libya now: security, security and security.
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