WASHINGTONâ€“â€“The bloody battle for control of Libya, where leader Moammar Gadhafi has turned his military forces loose on civilians, could have repercussions far beyond the isolated North African nation.
The collapse of Gadhafiâ€™s regime after 42 years, which seemed possible Monday, could spur similar revolts across North African and Arab lands that so far have remained relatively unscathed by the anti-government fever sweeping the region, experts said.
â€œIf it can be done here, it can be done anywhere in the Arab world,â€ said Ronald Bruce St John, who has studied Libya for 30 years and written numerous books about the country. Ten days ago, he said, he wouldnâ€™t have believed that popular anger might oust Gadhafi.
But if Gadhafi holds on, St John said, nearby regimes will draw the lesson that â€œyou want to jump on hard with two feetâ€ and brutally crush dissent before it spreads.
Isolated for decades under Gadhafiâ€™s bizarre leadership and thinly populated outside major coastal cities, Libya has no strong strategic ties to the U.S. After decades of tension over Gadhafiâ€™s support of terrorism, the two countries only re-established full diplomatic ties in 2006, after Libya voluntarily abandoned attempts to build nuclear arms.
Although U.S. companies developed Libyaâ€™s oil fields in the 1960s, the U.S. imports less than 1 percent of its oil from the country.
But Libya is a major oil and gas exporter to Europe â€“â€“ in particular to Italy, its former colonial overlord. A number of firms resumed or initiated roles in Libyaâ€™s growing petroleum industry after the United Nations and U.S. lifted more than a decade of economic sanctions in 2003 and 2004.
Many of those firms, including Italyâ€™s Eni, the largest foreign operator in Libya, and BP, said Monday that their employees would leave the country.
Libya has the eighth-largest proven oil reserves in the world. Access to those supplies was part of the Bush and Obama administrationsâ€™ strategy of diversifying energy sources beyond the volatile Persian Gulf.
The turmoil in Libya sent U.S. oil prices up more than $5 a barrel to close at $91.42 Monday. Some future contracts have gone as high as $108 a barrel.
Under Gadhafi, Libya has been unpredictable in world affairs, sponsoring the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and supporting a pan-African union under Tripoliâ€™s sponsorship.