Friday, January 18, 2013

In militias we trust: Libya's conundrum

    Friday, January 18, 2013   No comments

Uthman Mleghta, commander of the powerful al Qaaqa brigade from the Nafusa Mountains town of Zintan, rejects being described as a qatiba (militia). On a recent foreign NGO’s visit to his heavily guarded headquarters in Tripoli, Mleghta presented his “group’s” activities, including a newly launched print newspaper and an education programme for Libyan youth.

But his visitors were more interested in al Qaaqa’s security role. Al Qaaqa is responsible for, among others, controlling the border pass with Tunisia, guarding certain oil fields and the protection of some high profile Libyan politicians. When asked about al Qaaqa’s well-armed fighters, Mleghta matter-of-factly answered  “we are the army”.

The rapid disintegration of Muammar al Gaddafi’s armed forces and police meant that the militias born out of the revolution were the only ones equipped to fill the security vacuum left behind. This scenario led to a number of the cities or towns seeing their militias play key roles in the revolution, gaining significant influence.

Zintan, the small town in the Nafusa mountains where al Qaaqa hails from and where Saif al Islam Gaddafi is being held, went from being politically insignificant to being awarded the Defence ministry portfolio of the last transitional government, assigned to Zintani commander Osama al-Juwali


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