Seven reasons why a Libyan solution cannot work in Iraq
When a Libyan pessimist, sceptical of the ability of his country’s new government to fulfill its promises, meets an Iraqi who is all too familiar with his own country’s problems and is affected by the corruption of its failed, corrupt governments (the roots of which were laid in laws enacted by US Administrator Paul Bremer), many factors will cause the Iraqi citizen to envy his Libyan brother for blessings God has bestowed upon.
The first is that Libya is not a neighbour of Iran, Turkey, or Syria.
The second is that the Libyan people belong to one sect and are essentially of one ethnic group, despite the existence of small ethnic minorities who are unable to obstruct the reunification process, as is the case in Iraq today.
The third is that the Libyan people number slightly more than seven million in a vast land with resources and riches that are enough to rebuild the country from east to west and from north to south. These can also make Libyan citizens the richest on earth. That wealth would enable them to play an effective and far-reaching role in drawing up regional policies and contributing to international agendas to a far greater extent than, for instance, little Qatar has achieved.
The fourth and most important of all reasons is that the majority of Libyans is favourable to a civil state that separates religion from the state, even though it respects religion and is keen on the freedom to preach, provide religious counsel and practice rituals. The history of the Libyan people since the days of their emancipation from the Italian occupation shows that the role of clerics rarely extended beyond the mosque or the shrine.
Fifth, and despite all the turbulence the country has faced, the professional Libyan National Army has survived albeit with limited manpower, weapons and combat experience. Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, despite conflicting views about him, only exhorted soldiers still loyal to military tradition to reject the domination by armed militias over the country’s wealth and people, calling upon them to unite under his leadership. He thus became the leader of an effective armed force that could not be ignored by the outside world and the United Nations when searching for a solution. And that is what has happened.
It was not possible, without his approval and participation, to reach the peaceful settlement with the Tripoli government, Islamist militias and groups of foreign mercenaries which produced the interim government tasked with laying the ground for fair elections by next December. Such a thing cannot happen in Iraq where the militias are in full control and dominate the government and the judiciary. The Iraqi army, since its re-establishment after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, has been the weakest partner in the political process because the Iranians and their Iraqi Shia proxies and their Kurdish allies sought to ensure an army built on their own factions.
The sixth asset for Libya is that unlike Iraq it has no racist parties which since their inception decades ago have put their weapons and fighters under the command of every country hostile to their homeland. This was especially true after the Americans, in the aftermath of the 1990 occupation of Kuwait, gave these parties an independent platform to be a thorn in the side of the Iraqi people, allowing them to prevent full reunification even at the cost of bloodshed.
And the seventh and last reason is that Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria have not tainted the hands of their soldiers and officers with the blood of Libyans, as Iran and Turkey have done with Iraqis. They have not had recourse to the bribery, espionage and plots which is keeping Iraq as long as possible, torn, backward and bankrupt, making certain that a unified, strong, rich and respected Iraq never emerges.
Yes, there are external forces that created Libya’s problem on February 17, 2011, and they have indeed fanned the flames of civil war over the past ten years. But these same actors are the ones who worked to encourage the Libyan protagonists, or maybe more accurately, to force them to end the fighting, chaos and devastation and to rebuild what the armies and militias have ravaged. This came about after these external forces realised their interests are better served by a Libyan at peace rather than in conflict.
As for Iraq, it has one neighbour who was able to infiltrate all the state’s joints and become the de facto and undisputed ruler.
Moreover, the most striking difference is that the US in Libya did not simply force a settlement, but raised its big stick against all parties involved in creating the problem. In Iraq, however, the US was not in the past part of the solution nor is it today nor will it be in the future.
In addition, the radical Islamists driven by the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and others have not been able to transform their influence in Libya into a deep state that imposes its authority over the entire country like they did in Iraq.
Iraqi governments be they from the Dawa Party or those that have followed it, have had the support of the powerful Iranian state as well as official Turkish backing and tacit US approval. And this, even though the US always knew better than others about these governments’ corruption, extremism and bloodthirstiness. The full extent of the facts were hardly concealed from America’s intelligence services that were never more than an inch way from the public and private lives of the country’s pro-Iranian ministers, directors, and ambassadors, be they Shias or Sunnis, Arabs or Kurds.