Libyan Interim Government Urges Militias to Disband

Encouraging former revolutionaries to join the interim government could restore stability.

Libya is facing a lot of problems, even after the successful defeat of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s loyalist forces and the murder of the once dictator himself. But officials in Libya’s National Transitional Council, the interim body that has been criticized over the past few months for its lack of transparency, are gearing up all of their resources to ensure that Libya’s future is a little bit easier going into the New Year.

Improving Libya’s economic and political future cannot be achieved until the council is serious about mending fences with former Gaddafi fighter and bringing the nation’s dozens of independent militias firmly under the central government’s authority.

Like any postwar transition process, reconciliation across the board is key — an effort that not only demonstrates the government’s goodwill to those who fought on the wrong side but a move that helps ensure that everyone is given a say in the new governing arrangement. With eight months of conflict pitting Libyan against Libyan, reconciliation and reintegration, as well as rebel disarmament and the establishment of and strong transparent national institutions, is an urgent priority for the NTC.

Accomplishing this objective has been a difficult and painfully slow endeavor since the civil war was officially termed over after Gaddafi’s capture and death last October. At least two hundred civilians turned fighters continue to patrol Libya’s two largest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi, with the most powerful militia in the capital resisting the city council’s disarmament efforts until the transitional government proves that it can take over the security function.

Residents in Tripoli have been complaining about the presence of militias from out of town, with fighters from Misrata and Zintan, both cities in the west, acting as if the capital were their personal fiefdom. The same rebels who were cheered on by Libyans from both the east and the west are increasingly resembling bands of renegades who are menacingly patrolling neighborhoods with their machine guns and anti-aircraft weaponry.

For their part, Libya’s roving militias continue to view themselves as their nation’s guardians — the only people capable of providing the type of stability that is needed to defend against a Gaddafi loyalist comeback.

Libya’s rebels are also getting impatient, demanding that the NTC expand its membership so more revolutionaries can join.

The interim body’s chairman, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, is making an effort to do just that. The defense and interior ministries, both critical to defending and operating Libya’s borders, oilfields and ports, are sending out applications to former rebels through municipal councils, encouraging them to lay aside their weapons in return for full employment. Security jobs are just the kind of work that the thousands of militiamen have been asking for. Soldiers and policemen require many of the same skills that Libya’s diverse militias have been honing since the revolution began last February, including arms training, basic command and control, issuing orders, taking them, building camaraderie and taking care of wounded.

Yet upon entry in the security forces, militiamen will also be forced to learn skills that they have not performed previously, like abandoning their freelancing ways and pledging allegiance to a state that is only in its infant stages. Rounding up people on mere suspicion will have to be replaced with issuing arrest warrants upon probable cause. Prisoners will need access to an attorney instead of rotting in a jail cell, indefinitely. Those who are found not guilty of their crimes or those who cannot be linked to a violation through credible evidence are to be released back into the population. A system of laws then must be drilled into the heads of Libya’s politicians, generals, police officers, bureaucrats and armed citizens.

No one said rebuilding Libya will be an easy task. Thanks to Gaddafi’s obsession with himself and his ideology, any of the national institutions that were functioning have been worn down or like the Libyan army, purposely destroyed for fear of a faction emerging powerful enough to rival his own.

The NTC’s job opening is a big step forward but one that cannot be sustained without good natured international assistance, from military liaison teams and military education, to election observers and creation of employment in Libya’s petroleum industry and outside of it.

The present situation in Libya, where militias clash among each other over prisoners and territory, cannot be sustained. Converting the militias into a national army and police force will not end all of the country’s problems but could set a good precedent.