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Libya's interim leaders confront tough task: disarming militias

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Most of the fighters who have become known as Libyan rebels are civilians who, until the uprising began in February, had no idea how to operate an AK-47, much less how to fire an artillery gun or launch a Grad rocket. Many men are eager to go back to their families and return to work as lawyers, engineers, teachers, and myriad other professions.

“Each one of us will go back to his own work,” says Khalid Tayer Faraj Hussien, a fighter with the Ali Hassan Jaber Brigade who has fought on the front lines in eastern Libya for months. He wants to go back to school after the fighting ends.

His friend Marai Rafallah Suleiman Dakheel says he wants to marry his fiancée of three and a half years when it’s all over. “I want to rest and marry and have a settled life,” he says.

Such fighters likely outnumber those who have angered residents of the capital, Tripoli, by charging around, firing weapons into the air, and displaying a privileged attitude toward civilians. Those who may pose the greatest difficulty are not individual fighters but militia commanders. Some worry they won’t easily give up the power that comes with directing a heavily armed group.

A National Guard model?

One of the most powerful men in eastern Libya is Fawzy Boukatif, head of the Feb. 17th Brigade and leader of the union of militias in eastern Libya. He denies any desire to stay in a military role. Disbanding militias, he says “is not difficult, but it takes time.” Amid all the talk of disarming, he points out that militias aren’t going away anytime soon, because they’re still needed.

Qaddafi gutted Libya’s army, leaving high-ranking officers but few soldiers, and the organization is in shambles, says Mr. Boukatif. He proposes a National Guard of sorts, composed of militias, to maintain order in the short term.

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