BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqis watching news of the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi remembered how their own dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted, fearing Libyans might now face years of factional violence as they did after Saddam’s capture and execution.
Gaddafi’s death while trying to flee in a convoy Thursday came after eight months of war between Gaddafi loyalists and NATO-backed rebels who took the capital from the deposed leader two months ago.
After the 2003 U.S. invasion that ended his rule, Saddam went on the run for months before he was dragged from a hole in the ground, put on trial and hanged.
Watching Gaddafi’s death, some Iraqis said they believed Libya could descend into vicious slaughter as Iraq did in 2006-2007 when sectarian violence killed thousands of people and pushed the country to edge of civil conflict.
“In the coming days, what happened in Iraq is going to happen in Libya. The struggle for power will begin soon and Libyan people will be the next victims,” said Karar Hassoun, a government employee in Baghdad.
Saddam was found by American troops around eight months after he was ousted, hiding in a hole in the ground, his beard long and hair ragged. In his months on the run, he gave clandestine broadcasts urging resistance.
Gaddafi’s capture was not so different. Though the exact circumstances of his death were unclear with conflicting accounts of how he died, his captors said they found him cowering in a drain pipe filled with garbage.
“Gaddafi was a tyrant, he was always warning Arab rulers they were next and what happened to Saddam will happen to them, but his forecast came true with his own death,” Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman of the Iraqi government told Reuters.
Soon after the invasion, Iraqi politicians struggled to form a government as sectarian violence rocked the country. Even the 2010 election was marred by infighting. It took Shi‘ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs nearly a year to form a government.
With Gaddafi out of the way, Libya’s fractured leadership also now faces the task of living up to the huge expectations of a people freed from four decades of strongman rule.
Installing democracy, ensuring remaining pro-Gaddafi supporters cannot launch a guerrilla insurgency and rebuilding its economy will be important tests for Libya’s new leaders.
Libya’s de facto prime minister visited Baghdad earlier this month to ask fellow OPEC member for help in developing Libya’s oil industry.
“We call Libyan brothers to maintain unity to build a new Libya,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a statement.
Gaddafi was the latest leader to fall in the so-called Arab Spring revolutions. The presidents of Tunisia and Egypt were driven out earlier by protests demanding political change but with relatively little violence.
Some Iraqis believed Libyans would see Iraq’s own violent turmoil as a warning, and would be careful to avoid bloodshed.
“Fighting in Iraq is an experience that has given a lesson to Arab revolutions and for the Arab people. This is what we have seen in Egypt and Tunisia,” said Aqeel Hussain, 36, a businessman in Baghdad.
“The bitter experience of Iraq will not be repeated.”
Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Rosalind Russell