The dissemination of the messages, intended to discourage looting and arson in liberated parts of the city, was among the lead items on a long to-do list that the rebels are just beginning to put into place. Developed and refined during multiple meetings in Washington, Benghazi and Doha, the list represents an attempt to anticipate every possible hiccup and challenge that could undermine Libya’s transitional government in its first weeks — from reprisal killings to power outages to sewage backups.
Anxious to avoid the anarchy that followed the fall of Baghdad in 2003, rebel leaders and their Western backers began planning five months ago for the aftermath of Moammar Gaddafi’s defeat, long before it was clear how, or whether, the Libyan autocrat would fall.
The rebels’ post-victory planning now faces the ultimate test as the Transitional National Council seeks to assert its authority amid the chaos of a capital that is still claimed by Gaddafi and contested by remnants of his once-vaunted security forces. U.S. officials say the results so far are encouraging; Tripoli’s civilian population has remained relatively subdued, and acts of wanton destruction have been few. But they acknowledge that much depends on circumstances that are difficult to control or predict.
“We’re at a pivotal transition point now,” Jeffrey Feltman, the State Department’s chief diplomat for the Middle East, said Wednesday as he shuttled between meetings on Libya in the Qatari capital of Doha. “There are a lot of challenges ahead, and security is only the first of them.”
A European diplomat involved in Libya policy discussions was struck by the amount of detailed discussion of “what needs to happen and who needs to do it.”
“Quite a lot of planning has been done already,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe diplomatic discussions. “Now everyone is looking at activating all the planning.”
The planning for post-Gaddafi Libya, described in interviews with U.S. and European officials, began as early as mid-March, before U.N. approval of the NATO-led military intervention. Diplomats and security officials began to map out possible outcomes for what was then a one-sided conflict between powerful, well-trained Libyan troops and disorganized bands of anti-government protesters.
At that time, the likely scenarios ranged from an outright Gaddafi victory to a permanently divided Libya, with rebels maintaining control over a few eastern provinces, U.S. officials said. Only weeks later, after NATO fighter planes gave the rebels space to regroup, did the planners begin to think seriously about a future Libya in which the rebels were in charge.