Inside Libya

Aug 22, 2011

Chat with Liz Sly, the Post's Baghdad Bureau Chief, about the current state of Libya. Liz can speak to the on-the-ground scene in Libya right now, as well as world leaders' call on Moammar Gaddafi to surrender, the rebel fighters and more.

Related: World leaders call on Gaddafi to surrender; Libyan rebels secure most of Tripoli

Doesn't the distance involved make covering Libya for you kind of like covering Saskatchewan from Washington?

I'm actually in Beirut, and have been out of Baghdad for a while covering the Arab revolts in Egypt, Libya and now Syria. I'm coordinating the Post's Libya coverage, with my colleagues Thomas Erdbrink in Tripoli and Leila Fadel in Benghazi. 

What are the chances that there will be a peaceful transition to a relatively stable government? Is additional violence among rebel factions a real possibility?

It all seems so fluid it's hard to say. It's clear there is little coordination between the eastern and the western rebels, and there are historical rifts between east and west so rivalry has to be a concern going forward

Is it likely that Gaddafi will shoot himself in the temple like Hitler did at his bunker in 1945?

Ha, I've no idea. Both men seemed pretty mad, but perhaps not in the same way? But it would save a lot more trouble if he did...


Supposing, as looks likely, fighting in Tripoli intensifies and persists, what diplomatic and military response from the U.S. and NATO are we likely to see?

Well, I think the comments we've seen today from western and Nato leaders make it pretty clear there is no intention of sending in ground troops, and without that it's hard to see what they could do to influence events on the ground. As NATO has pointed out, you can't bomb urban areas where close quarters combat is taking place because of the risk of hitting civilians.  But after everything we've witnessed over the past 8 months in the Middle East, I rule out nothing.

1. We failed to get congressional consent and violated the war powers resolution. 2. We violated the terms of the UN Mandate by acting as the air force for the rebels. 3. We still know nothing about these rebels but we do know that Al quaeda is amongs them. This was the wrong intervention - it was a civil war and we should have let them fight it out themselves. We cannot afford the billions this has cost us and we should demand that Libyan money be used to reimburse us. All in all this was a waste of money and time - if France and the uK wanted the intervention let them have IT ALL. We were lied to about out support role - in the end we did the majority of the bombing as our "allies" ran out of money and munitions. All in all this was a FAILURE.

Hmm, not a complete failure surely?

Is there reason to fear that Gaddafi may risk going down in one last murderous battle?

Yes, definitely. We've no idea where he is, or what he has planned for this moment. Right now it appears his defenses have evaporated far more quickly than any one had dreamed. But there's still his stronghold of Sirte to be dealt with, and, as I said in a previous answer, in the Middle East right now I rule nothing out!

If Gaddafi does step down, then what happens next?

I'm not sure it's up to Gaddafi to step down or not now, he's pretty much gone. The only real question is whether he can still put up any kind of fight before being captured or killed. He doesn't control the capital, he doesn't control most of the country, so he can no longer rule. The next step is for the rebels to turn into a reality the shadow government they've been running out of Benghazi, and how efficiently or effectively they will be able to do that is a huge question.

You have done superb work on the Arab Spring.

That's really nice of you! It's basically been a non-stop whirlwind with no time to take stock or even think about what's happening.

How have you managed to stay safe during all of these chaotic uprisings? And how is the whiskey at the Rixos?

I've spent an awful lot of time in the past few months reporting on Syria out of Beirut, because the Syrian government won't give us visas, which is frustrating but certainly pretty safe. I was at the Rixos in March/ April. And I think it may have been the first time in a very long time that I didn't touch alcohol once for a whole month :)

Do you think the rebels can actually make things better for the people of Libya?  What kind of government are they hoping for? Are they organized enough to implement the changes they want?

When I was in Tripoli I definitely got the impression that a large number of people are yearning for a better life than they had under Gaddafi. I don't think anyone anywhere wants to live under the same government for 42 years. So I think this will come as a huge breath of fresh air to a lot of people. That said, we know from the experiences of many past revolutions and regime changes that fulfilling the aspirations of those who yearned for change can be an enormous challenge, sometimes one that almost no one could be up to

What is the role of the U.S. in all of this? How involved should we be?

The US obviously played a huge role. The first bombs were dropped by the US - I saw their remnants. But after the experience of Iraq I think a lot of people both in Libya and the US will be extremely wary of encouraging a major US role in shaping Libya's future

What is the scene like on the streets of Libya right now? Is it still very dangerous? Is there celebrating? What's going on?

Ah, I wish so much I was there. As I said, I am in Beirut, coordinating the coverage. I have been on the phone all day to Libyan contacts who are ecstatic about the transformation and assure me rebels have the city under control. Our correspondent in Tripoli Thomas Erdbrink reports a much darker mood, with pockets of Gaddafi resistance, and frequent firefights, so it does sound like this battle isn't entirely over yet

The Removal of Quadaffi will be bad for Libya. The country is in ruins, the rebels are a supported by Jihadist and have no idea how to govern. They are just an unruly street mob that NATO put in power - this will lead to years of instability in Libya and it will end up like Afghanistan and Iraq. We should never intervene in a country's civil war - this was a civil war and we created a web of lies to justify an illegal intervention. I bet the Libyan will just love decades of instability and impoverishment - just like they do in Iraq and Afghanistran. How can you even consider this a success?

It is indeed way too early to judge a success whatever comes after Gaddafi because it hasn't even happened yet. We just don't know what will follow him. But given that a clear goal of the NATO mission and of US policy was the removal of Gaddafi, then it appears that part of the policy succeeded.

I was watching al Jazeera English for most of last night's coverage, and I was quite impressed. I also saw that the huge crowd in Benghazi's square celebrating had American and French flags, and signs saying Thank You France. I'm optimistic because of that. I also have a satellite dish that can get (believe it or not) Libyan state TV. They were showing a crowd of perhaps 50 people mulling around what looked like a courtyard of a small apartment block carrying official Ghaddafi posters and signs with the date on them--I guess to show the world the pictures were live.

One thing that I and others who have been to Libya in recent months have noticed is the enormous affection with which Libyans regard America, and also France as you say, because of the big role France played in promoting the bombing campaign. I have spent years covering the Middle East and I can tell you it is pretty unusual for America to be loved. But there are people in Libya who genuinely love the US for what it has done. 

Can you compare or contrast the dynamics in Libya vs. those in other Arab countries that have been in upheaval? Do you think Syria will follow in similar fashion?

Well obviously the dynamic in Libya is very different from the other Arab countries because this was a full-on armed rebellion, which had the support of some pretty sophisticated high tech Western airpower. Syria is a very interesting comparison, because in Syria the revolt has been quite consciously peaceful and the protesters vow they will remain peaceful. But it took the armed Libyan rebels about five months to oust Gaddafi. The peaceful Syrian revolt has lasted five months and Assad is not close to being toppled. You have to wonder at what point the Syrians will look at the Libyan experience and start to wonder...

Do you think it was right for Obama to fail to get permission from Congress and go ahead and violate the War Powers Act? We also violated the UN Resolution 1973 which called only for a NO-FLY Zone - not providing close air support for the rebels and in doing so killing civilians? Do you think all of that was justified?

I cover the Middle East, not US politics, so I really don't feel qualified to answer that...

I know this is the Washington Post, but...any comments on whether and how Al-Jazeera played a part in what's happening in Libya and other Arab countries? Do you think Al-Jazeera will be perceived differently in the US now?

I think Al Jazeera has played an extraordinary role, both since the revolts started but also in the decade leading up to them, when the existence for the first time of a TV  channel that challenged the status quo bred, I believe, a generation of young people raised to think differently from their parents.  Al Jazeera is and can be controversial, but I say, all kudos for them for encouraging a different way of looking at the world

Ok, that's it, thanks everybody for all your great questions!

In This Chat
Liz Sly
Liz Sly, the Post's Baghdad bureau chief, has spent more than two decades as a foreign correspondent, with postings in Africa, China, Europe, South Asia, and the Middle East. She joined the Post in 2010, after working in Iraq since 2003 for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.
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