[Marxism] Those independent militias

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 30 06:44:30 MDT 2011

(Hat tip to Marvin Gandall)


Those independent militias

The NTC may be less able to restrain its fighters once the threat 
from Colonel Qaddafi is removed. Much of the rebel manpower is 
grouped into 40-plus privately organised, privately funded 
militias known as katibas (brigades). Each katiba is usually drawn 
from one town, commanded by a respected local military veteran or, 
in some cases, by the businessman who financed it. They drive 
privately owned pickups or jeeps with mounted anti-tank or 
anti-aircraft guns, captured from government arsenals or supplied 
by foreign benefactors. Members are enthusiastic but usually have 
only cursory training and very little sense of military 
discipline, often commuting to the front from their homes. Katiba 
leaders say that they meet the NTC’s more formalised military wing 
in an operations room to plan battles, but decisions appear to be 
arrived at by consensus rather than through any military chain of 

Relations between the NTC and the katibas were brought to crisis 
point by the assassination on July 28th of Abdel Fatah Younis, a 
defecting general who became the NTC’s top military commander and 
may have wanted to bring the militias under centralised control. 
The circumstances surrounding the killing have yet to be 
explained. NTC judges had issued an arrest warrant for General 
Younis on suspicion that he had made unauthorised contact with 
Colonel Qaddafi, but the killers themselves are reported to have 
been rogue katiba fighters with a personal vendetta against the 
one-time Qaddafi loyalist.

They may have been members of the Abu Ubeidah Ibn al-Jarrah 
brigade, said to be a force of former political prisoners, some of 
them radical Islamists. After Younis’s death, the brigade was 
reportedly dissolved, and the NTC has turned him into a martyr, 
standing for proper military discipline. Posters of the confident, 
neatly uniformed general smilingly greet motorists on several of 
Benghazi’s main streets.

In the aftermath of Younis’s assassination, katiba members swear 
that they answer to the orders of the NTC. “We all have the same 
goal. We all want to end this,” says Muftah Barrati, a senior 
official at the camp of one of Benghazi’s largest katibas, the 17 
February Martyrs Brigade. “When this is complete, we all will 
return to our jobs.” He himself was a financial manager for the 
computer company of Mustafa Sigizli, a businessman who helped set 
up the brigade. Rebels, with no former jobs to return to, may be 
given the option of joining a national army.

However, it would be a rare rebel force that did not derive some 
sense of entitlement from the sacrifices made during a hard-fought 
war, and the katibas still brush off requests by NTC officials to 
place themselves under the authority of a unified command. Based 
on the barrages of celebratory gunfire in Benghazi that erupt 
nightly to mark weddings, funerals or good news from the front, 
katiba members enjoy owning automatic weapons and would be 
reluctant to give them up.

Council members say that they know they would have more authority 
were they an elected body. They have thus opted for a fairly swift 
transitional period. The fall of Tripoli, when it is fully 
established, will set off an eight-month countdown to provisional 
elections. Some say this timetable is too short for a country with 
no experience of even single-party politics, let alone of genuine 
democracy. A group of protesters holding a sit-in outside NTC 
headquarters last week said that they suspected senior council 
leaders of having cut a deal with a handful of Libyan political 
groups, such as the Muslim Brothers and the National Front for the 
Salvation of Libya, a long-established exile group. The 
experienced groups, complained the protesters, had an unfair 
advantage in knowing how to campaign and win votes.

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