Thursday, August 18, 2011
As Libya Showdown Looms, Post-War Worries Build
By Peter Apps
Tripoli might be cut off and Libya's war moving to its endgame, but even if Muammar Gaddafi avoids a bloody finish his departure could usher in a new period of instability and uncertainty. Libya's rebels said on Tuesday they had completed moves to cut off roads to the capital after rapid advances in the west. The defection of a senior Gaddafi security official further reinforced the image of crumbling central authority.
But analysts, oil companies and Western governments worry that the opposition, too, remains riven by internal division that could prompt new fighting, jeopardizing both post-war recovery and the resumption of oil exports. While sources say members of the opposition and government have held secret meetings in Tunisia that also involve a UN envoy, many doubt Gaddafi and his sons would cede power even with a guarantee of immunity from international prosecution.
Even his death might not end his family's influence. "Gaddafi will have plenty of tricks up his sleeves until his very last breath," said Hayat Alvi, lecturer in Middle Eastern politics at the US Naval War College. "He will have instructed his sons and circle of loyalists- especially those remaining in the security services-to plant as many obstacles in the rebels' and transitional government's paths as possible, even in his absence.
The rebels and NATO may hope an uprising or coup in Tripoli would let them enter the city without the kind of street battle that would challenge the skills of both rebels and Western air forces. But not everyone believes such an outcome is likely. "Unrest in Tripoli remains limited to small scale bouts of localized unrest and shortages during Ramadan caused by the opposition's militias could fuel resentment against them rather than the regime," said Henry Smith, Libya analyst for risk consultancy Control Risks.
Having initially hoped a flurry of NATO air strikes would be enough to oust Gaddafi, the mood in many Western capitals darkened the point of outright pessimism as the war dragged on. Recent rebel military success might make it easier for NATO states to extend their military campaign when they next meet on Aug 31, but longer term worries are already building. The killing last month of Abdel Fattah Younes, military chief for the National Transitional Council (NTC), by rival rebels further strengthened views of Gaddafi's opponents in the east as divided among themselves.
Rebels in the west-who have made most of the recent military gains-have also openly voiced dissatisfaction with the lack of progress made by the Benghazi-based eastern bloc. Oil firms in particular worry that even a relatively easy end to the war could simply set the stage for more chaos. At worst, they fear a collapse into a new and more complex civil war. At the very least, bureaucratic and political infighting could make a return to pre-war business impossible.
The place will not necessarily become more peaceful if Gaddafi goes," said one Western risk consultant advising several major firms on Libya investments. "You will have ex-Gaddafi people, the NTC and expats from the trading families returning," he said. "And they will be at each other's throats." A July report from oil specialists Wood Mackenzie estimated that even after a possible overthrow of Gaddafi it could take around 36 months for Libya to resume full oil production of 1.6 million barrels per day, roughly 2 percent of global output. Even with the swift lifting of international sanctions, many oil firms look likely to hang back from sending in teams to restart old projects or from investigating new ones.
Even if Gaddafi does go it will be far from a smooth transition," said one oil executive and security specialist. "Remove a dictator and destroy his security apparatus and you are left with a scenario remarkably like Iraq, and look how long that has taken." Saddam Hussein was overthrown more than eight years ago, but the country remains very troubled. Western governments too also seem reluctant to plunge deeper into greater involvement in a post-Gaddafi Libya. Sources with knowledge of post-war planning say some has taken place, but it is largely limited to a relatively few civilian officials.
With Western powers exhausted by Iraq and Afghanistan and now dealing with economic crisis and perhaps even a rising risk of civil unrest at home, few believe they have the appetite for large peacekeeping missions that could last years. While Libya does not have the same Sunni-Shiite sectarian division that rendered post-Saddam Iraq such a tinderbox, it does have complex tribal divisions that could fuel conflict. Some suspect that even after a Gaddafi departure it could remain effectively somewhat divided into east and west along ancient provincial boundaries.
But physical conflict and further damage to oil facilities is not the only worry for oil firms who spent years courting Gaddafi to gain access to the country. In the potentially febrile atmosphere of postwar Libya, they fear massive renegotiation of contracts and the digging up of old secrets. "The biggest threat to oil firms is that the new regime will inevitably try to investigate who paid what to secure contracts with Gaddafi," said the anonymous political risk consultant. "The firms will either have topay again or face the risk of information being disclosed publicly and potentially ending up in courts in Europe and the US"- Reuters
This analysis was published in The Kuwait Times on 18/08/2011