TRIPOLI, Libya, Aug. 24 (UPI) -- As victorious rebels, Western intelligence services and NATO warplanes hunt for Libya's elusive fallen dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, Western governments are striving to ensure a smooth transition for the oil-rich North African country.
But after six months of civil war and the collapse of a brutal regime that Gadhafi once boasted hunted down its dissidents like "stray dogs," that may be the hardest task of all.
Gadhafi was in power for 42 years after leading a military coup that overthrew the Senussi monarchy on Sept. 1, 1969, and ruled through fear, killings and intimidation.
There are many old scores to be settled by those who suffered at his hands.
On top of this, the country is riven by traditional tribal rivalries and feuds that in the power vacuum caused by Gadhafi's defeat could unleash the orgy of bloodletting that ravaged Iraq after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.
The rebels, mostly from eastern Libya, have long thirsted for the blood of Gadhafi and his supporters in the west of the country.
Gadhafi is the third despotic ruler to be toppled since the Arab world was plunged into turmoil in January with a wave of pro-democracy uprisings.
But his fall of his family-led regime marks the first instance of actual regime change. The political demise of Presidents Zine el-Abdeine Bin Ali of Tunisia Jan. 14 and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt Feb. 11 did not.
In both cases, observed the U.S. security think tank Stratfor, "the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt were led by the military, which survived by distancing itself from the … ruling parties and the heads of state" and supervising the orderly transition to new leadership and, hopefully, democratic elections.
"The fall of the Gadhafi regime, however, will likely leave the process of regime change incomplete," said Stratfor, which predicted that Libyan regime is unlikely "to be replaced by a new state any time soon."
Once Gadhafi's forces are vanquished, the disparate rebel forces, drawn from political and tribal groups with widely differing agendas and ideologies, "will likely not be able to establish a new republic," Stratfor added.
"A fractious rebel community obviously complicates any efforts at arriving at a power-sharing agreement.
"In all likelihood though, not only will the rebels face serious obstacles in establishing a new state, the Gadhafi state will be reduced to a non-state actor, one that will likely retain a lot of firepower.
"This arrangement will aggravate the various rebel factions, which will already be struggling with one another for power.
"Therefore, it is only reasonable to consider the possibility that a new state will not be established in the foreseeable future, and that Libya should brace itself for long-term instability."
The International Crisis Group remarked that as Libya shudders into the putative post-Gadhafi era, the largely desert country of 6.4 million people "faces a pivotal moment of historic proportions."
But the ICG stressed: "The new, still nascent, Libyan leadership faces a dual, difficult legacy which it will need to overcome: four decades of an autocratic regime that failed to build genuine state institutions and six months of a civil war that, together with inevitable human and material losses, exposed old divisions and fissures while prompting new ones.
"The challenge for that leadership, as well as for international actors who enabled its drive into Tripoli, is threefold: to establish a broadly inclusive and representative transitional governing body; address immediate security risks; and find an appropriate balance between, on the one hand, the search for accountability and justice and, on the other, the imperative of avoiding arbitrary score-settling and revenge."
NATO effectively sided with the country's eastern rebels when the Libyan uprising began.
For most of his rule, Gadhafi had supported terrorism and was considered an international pariah with maniacal tendencies so Western military support, in the form of an air campaign and discreet supply of weapons, for the rebels wasn't surprising.
But that thrust Western intelligence services and Special Forces into the murky intrigues of the conflict. The ramifications of the alliances forged and how these shape the new political realities have yet to be determined.
And the scramble for Libya's oil wealth that's probably about to ensue will no doubt further agitate and complicate an already volatile crisis.