Libya’s Rebels Avoid Iraq’s Mistake

Last week, with rebel units streaming into Libya’s capitol, Tripoli’s police abandoned their posts. Since then they have reportedly kept off the streets, fearing reprisals by rebels and Tripoli residents. However, in the last few days the rebel leadership, the Libyan Interim National Council (NTC), has called on the police to return to work. And now some police are doing just that.

Tripoli’s police, once part of the Gaddafi regime’s feared security apparatus, are an unlikely force to be in the streets after the city fell to rebel fighters in late August. However, the move was done specifically to avoid the failures of US and Coalition war planners after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. After Baghdad fell, war planners opted to disband the entire security apparatus of the country, leaving tens of thousands of armed and trained individuals out of work. It is widely believed these former policemen and soldiers formed the core of the country’s insurgent groups. Seeking to avoid this problem, the NTC plans on keeping most Gaddafi-era police in place, unless they were involved in crimes perpetrated by the regime.

NTC reportedly plans on having police work side-by-side with rebel fighters until the latter are formally integrated into the post-Gaddafi police force or military. So far, the move seems to be working:

Anti-Gaddafi fighters currently manning Tripoli’s checkpoints — most little more than furniture arranged in the street to slow traffic — said they had no qualms about eventually handing in their weapons and giving police security responsibility.

“It’s a good thing that the police are coming back, it’s their job. Of course I’m suspicious of some of them, but not all of them,” said Jumah Rashid, 30.

Members of the public also welcomed the police’s return.

“It’s great, this is what we expected. It’s better for them to return. Whoever was not involved in killings is welcome,” said Abdul Razik Talib, 36, who had just left a police checkpoint after driving over a poster of Gaddafi’s face.

Time will tell if the NTC can establish an effective and democratic government in Libya. But events suggest that, at least for now, things are looking up.

Photo credit: Frank M. Rafik