The Libyan Prime Minister may be free, but the country is not

Bill Neely

Former International Editor

Libya's Prime Minister Ali Zeidan addresses a news conference after his release. Credit: Reuters

So, Libya's Prime Minister is back behind his desk and all is well. If only that were true.

Read: Libyan Prime Minister 'freed after kidnapping'

Ali Zeidan may have been freed by his kidnappers but his country is not free from the armed militias that make a joke of the idea that Libya is a free, united and stable country. It is a basket case.

It isn't just the Prime Minister who is vulnerable to kidnap. Everyone in Libya is. In the days of Gaddafi, if someone disappeared, Libyans at least knew they were in the hands of the security services. Today, no-one has any idea which of the many armed gangs might be holding their loved ones. Libya is a broken country.

Apart from the Libyan football team, there is not a single body that has national legitimacy.

The government claims it, but is weak and chaotic.The justice system can't persuade a armed gang from the hilltop town of Zintan to hand over Gaddafi's imprisoned son Saif for trial.

Libya was for much of its history effectively three countries: East, Central and West. Gaddafi ensured that they came together as one.

Today the country is a jigsaw of increasingly autonomous city states and regions. The East, centred on Benghazi, is pulling away from the rest of Libya at an alarming rate. Many there want independence. The US ambassador, who fought for the freedom of Benghazi from Gaddafi's rule there, was assassinated in the city last year.

The country's oil industry, the main source of its wealth, is operating well below its capacity - some reports suggest 10 per cent of capacity, partly because much of it is controlled by militias. Militant Islamist groups are gaining more ground across the country. There are Islamists in the government. Weapons, freed from Gaddafi's arsenals, are the guarantors of chaos.

Read: Libya asks for Britain's help to remove Gadaffi's weapons

The immediate cause of the Prime Minister's detention was the American raid on Libyan soil that netted an al-Qaeda suspect. Many Libyans are furious, suspecting that the Prime Minister was warned ahead of the raid and did nothing to stop it.

It's quite likely he was not warned, but either way, many Libyans feel their country has been violated, a Libyan kidnapped by foreigners, in the capital, in broad daylight.

They feel vulnerable, to gunmen from abroad and at home, and humiliated that foreign troops seem to be able to do what they like. Westerners will now be extremely vulnerable to attack there. Retaliation is almost inevitable.

Watch: US forces capture al-Qaeda suspect in Islamist swoop

And finally, don't let anyone think Britain, or indeed France and the US, bears no responsibility for this.

Once again, a British Prime Minister ordered a military attack on a Muslim land, pounded the country, then left it, a Pandora's box of trouble, to its own devices.

David Cameron took the applause when he paraded around Benghazi as the Liberator. He might, perhaps, feel a shudder as he looks at Libya today.

Gaddafi was a maverick leader, a pariah to the West by the end. He predicted that his rule would be followed by chaos, Islamist violence and the division of Libya.

He said a lot of daft things in his life, but in this he is being proved right.