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Libya's Chaos More a Threat to US Than Iraq Ever Was

It's a bold statement to make, but after reading this gloomy report from the Associated Press that all but comes out and says that Libya is a failed state, it's not that difficult to measure the extraordinary danger to the US and our interests from the chaos in Gaddafi's creation.

The list of direct threats to the United States and our interests is a long one, and includes shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, millions of weapons fueling conflicts around the world, the ascension of Islamist terrorists, the support for terrorism among some militias, and the lack of government control in a strategically positioned country.

Iraq was -- and still is -- a huge mess. But even at it's height, the conflict in Iraq was sectarian in nature and religion still fuels the terrorism afflicting the Iraqi people today.

By contrast, the conflict is Libya is being driven by a government widely seen as illegitimate and incapable of protecting anyone. The rise of the militias, which threatens a civil war, has meant that weapons sales to fund militia activities are destabilizing many other countries as well.

Smuggling abroad is also big business. Abdel-Basit Haroun, a former top intelligence official, said tribes and militias that control the eastern, western, and southern borders are engaged in arms smuggling.

A 97-page report released in March by United Nations Panel of Experts said weapons that originated in Libya were found in 14 countries, often reaching militant groups. The report said smuggling is mainly from Libyan militias' arsenals.

Sophisticated man-portable, ground-to-air missile systems, known as MANPADS, have reached four conflict zones, including Chad and Mali.

"Fears that terrorist groups would acquire these weapons have materialized," the report said.

A MANPADS that militants in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula used to shoot down an Egyptian military helicopter this year originated in Libya, it said.

Libyan weapons were also found in Somalia, the Central African Republic and in parts of Nigeria where the militant group Boko Haram operates, it said.

In Niger, weapons used in the country's first suicide attack — last May — were typical of the Libyan arsenals and appear to have been smuggled in through Mali.

Another major destination for Libya's weapons is Syria. The report said investigators found that Qatar has been using its air force flights to transport weapons from Libya and eventually to Turkey, from where they are passed to rebels in Syria. The report said Russian-made weapons bought in 2000 by Gadhafi's regime were found in the hands of Islamic militant rebels in Syria.

"In a very real sense, Libya is exporting its insecurity to surrounding countries," wrote one of the authors of the report, Brian Katulis, a senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Efforts by Libya to control the weapons traffic have gone nowhere. In a Catch-22, militias say they cannot surrender their weapons until there is a proper military and police force to keep security in the country, yet the regular forces cannot be rebuilt when militias have so much power.

Under the Libyan government's Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program, some 160,000 militiamen have been registered under the Interior Ministry's Warriors Affairs Agency. A small portion of them have given up their weapons and demobilized. But most have been assigned various security tasks in an attempt to rope militias under state aegis.

Zuhair al-Ugli, the head of communications for the Warrior Affairs Agency, said there is no mechanism for dealing with the tide of guns.

"The state is paralyzed in collecting the weapons," he said.

As in Iraq, the US may have won the war but lost the peace. In Iraq, the US was successful to some degree, in training the police and army to protect the government. In Libya, it does not appear that NATO is making any progress at all in that department 3 years after the fall of Gaddafi.

This is not an attempt to minimize the mistakes made in Iraq by US policymakers. But very little has been said about the titanic failure of American policy in post-Gaddafi Libya -- a failure that could lead to attacks on the homeland as well as the destabilization of other nations that would complicate our foreign policy.