Is Libya drifting toward civil war?
The violence between rival militias outside of Tripoli have some analysts worried that the National Transitional Council is blowing it - that they have failed so far to take steps to unite the country and that their dithering may lead to more serious conflicts.
Escalating clashes between militia groups near Tripoli have killed several fighters over three days, amid growing concerns about rivalries between the heavily armed rebels who control overlapping areas in and around the Libyan capital.
"There is a big fight now, a new front," said a fighter from the western city of Zawiyah, who was positioning a rocket on a flatbed truck at the side of the main road 16 miles west of Tripoli. "We are fighting the Wershifanna tribe. There are remnants of Gaddafi people among them."
More than 100 other fighters from Zawiyah were manning checkpoints and loading up trucks with heavy weaponry before heading to the Hashan area, about a mile away, where the Wershifanna tribal fighters are the dominant force. Some said they believed ousted leader Moammar Gaddafi's favored son Saif al-Islam was hiding in the area.
Khalid Qessab, a Zawiyah militia commander, said that three fighters under his command had died in battles that began Saturday morning and two the previous day. Local leaders said that at least three fighters died Thursday.
The fighting was the most recent in a string of deadly confrontations among those who fought to overthrow Gaddafi's government and still have ready access to weapons. In Tripoli, where the police force is not fully functioning, brigades from a variety of tribes and regions control different parts of the city.
The incendiary combination of long standing trible rivalries and a lot of guns in an area without much law and order leads to such predictable results. While the NTC debates the form of government for Libya, their first priority should be reconstituting the police force and disarming and disbanding the militias.
Otherwise, some of those militias are going to decide that the NTC is not what Libya needs and take matters into their own hands. The resulting chaos would lead to Libya being a failed state - a Somalia like country - where warlords and militias rule the streets.