Libya Factions Jockey for Power as Splits Emerge After Driving Out Qaddafi

Muhsen al-Gubbi, a 30-year-old Libyan fighter from the western city of Misrata, refuses to watch the New Libya Television station set up after he and his fellow combatants drove Muammar Qaddafi from power.

The station, controlled by National Transitional Council spokesman Mahmoud Shammam, rarely mentions the role played by Misrata’s fighters in defeating Qaddafi’s army, he says.

“They don’t want to say anything about Misrata,” he said in an interview at a seafront military base in the city. “I don’t know what they want -- for Misrata’s revolution to disappear, that’s what they want.”

The pledge by Libya’s new leaders to form an all-inclusive government rings hollow for the fighters and the residents of Misrata, who were under siege by Qaddafi forces for most of the six months of fighting and feel the transitional administration is being hijacked by people from Benghazi in the east.

The council, which is moving its offices from Benghazi to Tripoli, says it’s committed to the rule of law, the writing of a constitution and the holding of elections, while attempting to revive the economy and return oil production to pre-conflict levels of more than 1.5 million barrels a day.

“This is unlikely to be a smooth process, but it can succeed if all actors agree to a set of basic principles of political conduct, enshrine them in institutions, and remain united,” Stefan Wolff, a professor of international studies at Birmingham University, said in a telephone interview.

Tripoli Patchwork

The NTC faces the challenge in Tripoli of controlling little more than the offices it has begun to occupy and the small teams of bodyguards, in crisp new desert-combat uniforms, who follow its officials in their white armor-plated jeeps.

The rest of the city, where a third of Libya’s 2 million people live, is a patchwork of checkpoints manned by fighters from Misrata to the east and Nafusa to the west, or neighborhood militias on the lookout for so-called fifth columnists or Qaddafi soldiers masquerading as civilians.

When al-Gubbi’s unit approached Tripoli last month, it was met not by Qaddafi forces, but crowds of civilians throwing red flowers. He joked that fighters almost “tired” of the petal showers. He’s the fifth driver of his unit’s pockmarked black jeep with a 106 mm recoilless rifle, after the previous four were killed. “I have lost so many friends,” he said. “There are so many empty places.”

Qaddafi Avoids Capture

While opposition supporters now control most of Libya, Qaddafi has avoided capture. The former rebels said he may be in one of their three target cities: Sirte, 280 miles (450 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli; Bani Walid, 90 miles southeast of the city; or Sabha, home to a major military base about 400 miles south of the capital.

Representatives of the transitional government agreed today with elders from Bani Walid for the peaceful entry of their forces into the town. The meeting was televised live by Al Jazeera.

Vehicles of Qaddafi’s army troops crossed the border into Niger yesterday. The convoy entered the Niger city of Agadez late yesterday and was headed to the capital, Niamey, Salley Kolle, a police officer, said today by phone. Niger’s Nomade FM radio station reported yesterday that Qaddafi’s intelligence chief, Mansour Daw, was in the one of the vehicles.

Friends Of Libya

A group of about 60 nations, dubbed the Friends of Libya, agreed at a Sept. 1 meeting in Paris to provide the new leadership with economic and military support, including continued NATO airstrikes. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the council to form an inclusive democracy, and avoid reprisals and violent extremism.

In Libya, the Misrata Military Council said on Sept. 2 it was “surprised” the transitional council didn’t include any representatives from Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, on its board. Instead, it’s dominated by appointees from Benghazi and eastern Libya.

Benghazi’s power is anchored on Cyrennaica, the eastern Libyan province, while the Misratan and Tripoli brigades are from Tripolitania. The Nafusa brigades are from mountains running from the Tunisian border along the divide between Tripolitania and the southern and mostly desert province of Fezzan.

The three provinces were consolidated into a single country by Italy, which in 1934 was the colonial power and named the territory Libya, taking the name from the ancient Greek word that applied to all of North Africa, excluding Egypt.

Regional Affinities

Still, regional affinities cut across tribal politics, leaving Libya largely free of sectarian divisions. All groups regard themselves as Libyan and all are Sunni Muslim.

“We know from experience that winning a war is no guarantee of winning the peace that follows,” Clinton said in Paris.

The first cracks in Libya’s rebel coalition opened in June, when the Misrata Council decided not to recognize the officially issued NTC press passes, and required its own accreditation for journalists to operate in Misrata.

Abdel Fattah Younis, the rebel military chief and defector from Qaddafi’s government, was killed on July 28 after he was taken into custody for questioning by his own side. The council has never explained his death.

Then, on Aug. 29 protests erupted in Misrata against the decision of NTC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril to appoint Qaddafi’s former army general, Albarrani Shkal, as security boss of Tripoli.

Jibril Backtracks

The Misrata Council lodged a complaint with the NTC, saying its units in Tripoli would refuse to carry out council orders if the appointment was confirmed. While Jibril backtracked, the announcement triggered a debate and unearthed divisions over reconciliation.

The members of the NTC say they will allow former government members into the interim administration to avoid a process similar to so-called de-Baathification in Iraq that saw officials loyal to Saddam Hussein purged, fueling sectarian tensions.

“The name of the game is inclusion to establish legitimacy to avoid chaos like happened in Iraq,” Jibril said in May.

Hassan El Amin, who returned to Misrata in June after 28 years exile in the U.K. and is an adviser to the Misrata Council, said that while its members were prepared to see former Qaddafi officials in non-security posts, such as the economic and health ministries, the security apparatus must be cleared out.

“These people were in power before and they failed,” he said. “Otherwise all the martyrs, all the blood, will be in vain.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Stephen in Misrata through the Dubai newsroom at barden@bloomberg.net; Caroline Alexander in London at calexander1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.

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