Learning the Lessons of Iraq

By James Hopkinson, Director of Assaye Risk.

The Libyan and Iraqi experiences of liberation are very different and should not be confused but there are some lessons that Libya would do well to consider. Ibrahim Sharqieh’s excellent recent piece in the International Herald Tribune entitled ‘An ill-advised purge’ hits a major one on the head.

While the proposed ‘Political Exclusion Law’ is an understandable reaction to years of one-sided oppression it must be couched at the right level. It should be aimed at those who were right at the top and were responsible for directing and holding Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime together. Widening its net too broadly will have the exact opposite effect to that intended and will markedly reduce the room for reconciliation with the potential of producing a fractious and divided state.

Paul Bremer’s ill-thought out and applied de-ba’athification ordnances in Iraq that banned the Ba’ath Party and dismissed the Armed Forces and Intelligence Services only served to fuel the full-blown insurgency that Iraq suffered from 2004.

So while it is right to ensure that particular individuals never hold public office or positions of power in Libya, it would be wrong to stigmatise an entire tribe or sector of Libyan society for its support of the old regime. The Iraq experience of the creation of the Supreme National Deba’athification Commission was a bad one, with the Commission becoming a vehicle for a perceived witchhunt against the wider Sunni community. This played into the hands of the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was able to twist Sunni sense of marginalisation into a wider base of support, whether tacit or actual in nature.

The urge to settle old scores is understandable but Libya must not institutionalise state mechanisms that result in senseless alienation of large parts of Libyan society. This is not an argument not to hold people accountable for their former actions but a plea to do so in a fair and transparent manner to all. Libya faces some serious ongoing challenges without creating additional ones of its own making.

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