How Gadhafi's death will affect Libya's civil war

Muammar Gadhafi was not the leader of all fighters battling against Libya's new regime, says CNN's Ben Wedeman.

Story highlights

  • CNN's Ben Wedeman spoke to CNN about the death of Moammar Gadhafi
  • He was the first Western TV reporter in Libya during this year's civil war
  • Don't expect Libyan civil war to end after Gadhafi's death, Wedeman says

The death of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed Thursday in his hometown of Sirte, Libya, is "an important step" for Libya, but don't expect the fighting to end right away, said CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman. Wedeman, the first Western television reporter to enter and report from inside Libya during the war, talked about how Gadhafi's life ended and what his death means for Libya's future and the civil war.

Q: There are reports that Gadhafi was hiding in a hole, possibly a sewer or drainage ditch, like former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein before he was captured. It doesn't seem like Gadhafi's M.O. What do you make of this?

Ben Wedeman: We understood when he left Tripoli in August that he left with a large entourage, with lots of cash ... and a lot of weapons. And for him to end up basically in the same sort of spider hole that Saddam Hussein did seems a bit odd, a bit out of character.

When I was there, we were hearing all sorts of reports: that he was in Bani Walid -- that was the explanation for the level of resistance there -- that he was in an oasis in the southern part of the country, and that he could be in Sirte.

So it's a bit of a surprise the way he, in theory, met his end.

CNN's Ben Wedeman, right,  and CNN photojournalist Mary Rogers during an interview in Sabha, Libya, in September.

He was not somebody that people expected to really go this early. Let's not forget that Baghdad, for instance, in the case of Iraq, it fell in late April (2003) (and) Saddam Hussein was not caught until December of 2003.

It was expected that Gadhafi could be able to hold out a bit longer than this.

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Q: What does Gadhafi's reported death mean to his loyalists, those fighting the National Transition Council? And how will the NTC fill the power vacuum left behind by Gadhafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years?

Wedeman: I think perhaps his role as a leader of the anti-NTC insurgency may have been somewhat overstated. I was in parts of Libya where I spoke to lots of people who were opposed to the new rulers of Libya, but not necessarily great supporters of Moammar Gadhafi.

There is a worry that this new regime in Libya will be very slow, if (they) succeed at all, in moving to democracy. There's a worry that there's going to be a lot of revenge, a lot of, basically, lawlessness. Some of the times when we were told that these were Gadhafi loyalists fighting for the leader, it was wrong.

They were actually people defending their homes, afraid that their homes would be looted, and we have seen instances where looting has been a serious problem.

So Gadhafi ... was a rallying point for a certain element of the opponents of the new regime in Libya. But he wasn't necessarily leading all of them.

Q: Does that mean you think those loyal to Gadhafi will continue to fight even after his death?

Wedeman: We have to realize this has been a complete change of regime, and many of these people (in the NTC) have no experience running the country. Yes, it's an important step along the way, but the killing of Moammar Gadhafi certainly doesn't mean that it's going to be smooth sailing.

I mean, all you have to do is look around (Libya): Egypt , the revolution (took) only 18 days -- and months, months and months later, it's still a very unstable and uncertain place.

Libya has certain elements working in its favor: a smaller population, a better educated population, lots in the way of natural resources. But no, just because Moammar Gadhafi is gone -- we believe -- doesn't mean things are going to be rosy from here on in.

Let's not forget even in Iraq -- and there are huge differences -- the first few months after the fall of Saddam Hussein were relatively quiet. It's when the new people in power start to exercise that power at every level of society, things can get complicated. There's been a lot of talk about tribal differences (in Libya) We haven't really seen that play out ... but I would not in any sense bet my bottom dollar that Libya will be smooth sailing now that Gadhafi is dead.