Monday, September 5, 2011

Iraq lessons: Ten mistakes Libya must avoid

As Libya enters the crucial phase of rebuilding and creating a new entity for itself, it is important to ensure that mistakes made by Iraq in an eerily similar circumstances are not repeated. Here is my list of the top ten:

Lesson 1: Don’t topple the entire government

Forcing all the bureaucrats, academics, and technical experts whose knowledge is important to keep the country running would be a grave mistake although Gaddafi’s cronies will have to go. 

Iraq did that with de-bathification when the removed all Baath party members out of government posts but little did they acknowledge that many had been required to join the Baath Party to hold their jobs. This would create a huge vacuum in Libyan government that would be open to exploitation.

Keeping some of the old members has two important benefits. One: It would ensure a smooth transition into a new government as they have the insight into the running of the government and two it decreases the pool of rebels trying to topple the new government. Libya is a heterogeneous state with hundreds of tribes that would look for some participation in the new elections. Creating a perfect balance with the old and new leaders would be one of Libya's biggest challenges.

Lesson 2: Don’t disarm the entire army and military

The dismantling of the Iraqi Army in the aftermath of the American invasion is now widely regarded as a mistake that stoked rebellion among hundreds of thousands of former Iraqi soldiers and made it more difficult to reduce sectarian bloodshed and attacks by insurgents.he huge Iraqi army of more than 400000 men simply vanished. These men were well-trained in the arts of combat, now abandoned, bitter and jobless. They knew where the weapons were kept and did not take much time in looting them and aiming them at the foreign military that they believed was destroying their country.
Every country needs a security apparatus and it’s important to retain a part of the army (of course Gaddafi loyalist have to go) to hold fort and train the new cadres. Iraq disbanded the entire army of Saddam Hussein and this led to chaos on the streets where troublemakers and terrorist groups flourished.However it is important to ensure that Gaddafi's people of mass destruction are captured and brought to book or else they could create trouble with the help of the loyal fringes in an attempt to regain power.

Lesson 3: Don’t rush elections

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the west led elections backfired tremendously. It made great news but was of little consequence. The issue of timing of elections was a crucial factor in Iraq where we learnt that ill-timed and ill-prepared elections do not produce democracy, or even political stability, after conflict. A country’s constitution should be decided by the country’s people and not any outside nation. It should not be rushed and should take in to account the country’s ethnic and demographic nature; only then will it succeed.

In Angola in 1992, in Bosnia in 1996, and in Liberia in 1997, rushed elections set back the prospects for democracy and, in Angola and Liberia, paved the way for renewed civil war. Expecting Libya to suddenly turn into a democracy overnight is wrong and unrealistic. It’s better to let Libyans decide on their pace of reform.

Lesson 4: Not just an empty head to lead Libya

It’s important that Libya has a strong and powerful leader with a vision to not just pull Libya out of the mess it is in but also build it to greater heights while maintaining peace and meeting public expectations. Post war Iraqi President was too weak to lead and a complicated system of caucuses to form a parliament that could not do much. 
Paul Bremer, shakes hands with the country's interim president, Ghazi al-Yawar

The 25-member Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), which was appointed in July 2003 was not really a “governing” council, as the American diplomat Paul Bremer III made it clear that he would continue to exercise supreme power, including the power to veto any IGC decisions. Libya does not need a figurehead president or a west puppet master but someone who has a vision and the capability to lead Libya to greater good.

Lesson 5: No foreign army to march on Libyan soil

Outside military in any country gives its enemies within the reason to harp on patriotism and turn rebellious. Allied forces in Iraq are still engaging with insurgents in preventing total chaos but the mere presence of these forces is also a constant stimulus to insurgency. Until foreign forces are fully withdrawn from its soil, Iraq will never truly be at peace.
An Iraqi woman and her children walk by a US Soldiers from the First Battalion, 17th Infantry, as he guards other soldiers from possible sniper fire as they conduct a vehicle search at a checkpoint in Mosul, north of Baghdad (AFP Photo / Cris Bouroncle)
A foreign military presence in Libya risks stoking rebellion within and also brings back horrible memories of the Italian occupation of Libya in the 1920s and 1930s – a time when Libya faced a fate worse than Gaddafi’s regime as tens of thousands of Libyans were killed in concentration camps. NATO air support was crucial in bringing about Gaddafi’s downfall but bringing the foreign army into Libya can turn the NATO supporters into opponents.

Lesson 6: Put trade above aid & defence

While in Iraq and Afghanistan, the allied forced extended help for defence making huge mistakes. In Iraq it was particularly important to create jobs, this could have been done rapidly if the repair and reconstruction contracts had been channeled more extensively through a wide range of local Iraqi contractors, but instead it had to pass through cumbersome process of the big U.S. corporations. This combined with widespread terrorism and violence, meant that most of the $18.4 billion reconstruction money of November 2003 was not spent within the first year, adding to Iraqi frustrations.

In Libya the NATO should extend aid by unfreezing assets and promoting trade between the Europe and Libya. This would help the economy gain strength from within and making it capable to support itself in some years without much foreign aid giving it a respectable position in the global political and economical circles.

Lesson 7: Let there be light

Iraq public life has deteriorated after the war. 24% of children suffer from various diseases. They are undernourished. Thousands have become handicapped, 25% Iraqis are illiterate and the unemployment rate is over 15% and electricity is only available for a few hours every day.
Looting in Iraqi Cities continued for months after Saddam was toppled
Cities cannot survive chaos in the dark and this would lead to rioting and looting as we saw in Baghdad post invasion. The first weeks of America’s post-war engagement in Iraq were chaotic and ineffectual, as most of the infrastructure of the country was systematically looted, sabotaged, and destroyed while American troops stood by. As a priority the Libyan council must restore electricity, ensure there is adequate food and water for its citizens, reopen schools, universities, businesses and ensure there are jobs and salaries are paid. If employment hits high, it will lead to discontent which will further looting and rebellion.

Lesson 8: Don’t slip on the oil

It’s very important to ensure that the Libyan oil is safe from the mafia, the militia and the foreign opportunist so that it does not end up becoming a source of corruption as in Iraq but its benefits and revenue are invested in rebuilding Libya and improving the lives of its people.
First Gaddafi’s clan pilferaged the oil revenues and it would be treachery if the west used the rebellion to seek unscrupulous benefits through oil trade or see billions disappear from the rebuilding funds.

Corruption of oil revenues was a huge factor that led to the discontent among the Libyans. A factor cited for Iraqi discontent. But corruption did not leave Iraq after the war. According to Transparency International Iraq comes 175th (the last one) in terms of struggle with corruption. More recently a corruption scandal discovered that the Development Fun lost $40 billion.

Pre war Iraq never exported oil. Now Iraqi oil is available over the counter in the USA. Three British American firms have secured a 20 year contract for oilfield development. Crude oil export revenues are used by the Iraqi government to purchase US arms and fighter jets amounting to $13billion by 2013 over foodstuff for its public.

Lesson 9: Don’t shoot your foot

In recent months, a great many people in Libya have found themselves armed with all sorts of weapons – some handed down by the NATO, some taken from the Gaddafi army and others just found in the many hiding places of the Gaddafi regime. There are too many weapons unaccounted for in too many hands. After the battle against Gaddafi is won, they weapons could be used for wrongful ‘rebellions’ – be it political or tribal. There should be a system incorporated to dispose off such weapons from the public sphere.
Iraqi rebels with weapons
In Iraq the security forces are weak and civilians still own several weapons. This leads to chaos on the streets everyday. Murders, kidnappings and looting happen daily. This has forced the local authorities to depend on the foreign military to control the situation.

Lesson 10: Don’t forget Iraq

The New York Times in 2008 published an unpublished federal report called Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience highlighting what I believe is an example of what not to do but of how not to do it. The west believed that military power should not just topple the government but also bring about economic reform and sustain growth. However Iraq proved them wrong.

A military power can work to conquer foreign lands but miserably fails if used to run them. It’s important for the west to realise the limits of its power in rebuilding a country. Mistakes made in Iraq should not be repeated in Libya or we have just taken the country from the devil and thrown it in the deep blue sea.

1 comment:

rizwana said...

'Ten Commandments' prophecised for libyans will prove strong and powerful if lessons learnt from it.