Three years after its civil war, Libya is on the brink of another

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Marco Werman: It's Marco Werman here and this is The World. Three years ago, US airstrikes helped topple Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. But now Washington does not want to get involved as the post-revolution chaos in Libya threatens to become a full-blown civil war and it doesn't want others to intervene either. Trouble is, others have intervened. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates reportedly worked together to launch airstrikes against Islamist militias in Libya not once, but twice, over the past week. New York Times correspondent David Kirkpatrick just got back to Cairo from an assignment to Tripoli and he says it's surprising that the strikes happened at all. David Kirkpatrick: It's really quite striking, almost shocking, that Egypt and the Emirates, two really very close allies the United States have, and military partners, conducted these strikes without telling Washington - Washington was caught by surprise. And they did it twice. It's one thing to think "Okay, we'll sneak this one by." But you would imagine that they would guess that Washington would be watching closely when, a week later, they conducted a second set of airstrikes launched out of Egypt with Emirati planes targeting Tripoli. Werman: And so why did the United States not get warned about these airstrikes? Kirkpatrick: Well the United States is still hoping, along with the western parts of Europe, to broker a peaceful resolution in Libya. So if they'd gone to the United States, the United States would have said "No," or "Please don't do this." Then you have to add to that the fact that there's been a growing gulf of distrust between Egypt, the Emirates and Saudi Arabia on the one hand and the United States on the other, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The United States really embraced these democratic movements, even when they brought Islamists to power, and that is something which is anathema to the governments of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia today. Werman: So how does that orient the US now and which side basically is the US on? Kirkpatrick: The US does not want to take a side in this particular regional battle and the US continues to hope other things will stabilize. But there are obviously forces pulling in several directions at once and I'm not sure how American policy makers think they're going to steer through these waters. Certainly on the ground here, everyone is full of conspiracy theories about which side the Americans are truly on. Werman: And given how much military aid the United States gives to Egypt, could it be possible that US weapons were involved in these airstrikes and what does that signify? Kirkpatrick: I couldn't get a straight answer from the US officials that I talked to about what weapons were used, which I think it will raise some eyebrows in Washington if it turns out that these strikes were conducted across borders, between countries in the Middle East, against US policy but with US weapons. Werman: Civil war in Libya, is the country just undoing everything it gained after the Arab Spring? Kirkpatrick: The situation is bad, it's certainly dark and yet if you want to be hopeful you can say that Libya has successfully overthrown a brutal and capricious tyrant who governed the country - I shouldn't even say governed the country - who ruled the country in a kind of a mafia-like fashion for over 40 years. That's an achievement. And the chaos that has followed is arguably the consequence of his 40-year rule rather than anything else and it may just be a long, dark and painful period that Libya has to get through if they hope to really build a modern state. Werman: So what's next? Will these bombing campaigns continue? Kirkpatrick: That's a good question. I imagine not. It seems like the Emiratis and the Egyptians hoped or believed they could do this discreetly and covertly enough that no one would know. If they continue at this point, there's likely to be a regional diplomatic backlash and certainly an escalation in support for the other side of the Libyan conflict. Werman: There are not many Western journalists on the ground in Tripoli. You may have been the only one. What is it like there on the ground? Are you free to walk around? Does it feel like a civil war is going on in the country? Kirkpatrick: It does feel very much like a civil war is going on in the country. I think as a Libyan, there is a pretty large portion of the city where you're free to walk around. As me, I'm not as free to walk around because I'm afraid of being kidnapped, which I very much do not want. Werman: David Kirkpatrick with the New York Times, thanks very much. Kirkpatrick: It's always a pleasure to talk to you.