Libyan Opposition Advances on Sirte During Bani Walid Impasse

New Libyan Leaders Face ‘Difficult’ Fight to Achieve Unity
Mahmud Jibril, Libya’s transitional prime minister, addresses a news conference in Tripoli on Sept. 8, 2011. Photographer: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

Libyan opposition forces pushed toward the loyalist stronghold of Sirte after suspending an earlier attack on Bani Walid, one of the last towns controlled by Muammar Qaddafi’s supporters.

The fighting continued a day after the chairman of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, arrived in the capital, Tripoli, to take command of the interim administration. The transitional leadership has been unable to proclaim a full victory because of its failure to find Qaddafi and to gain control of the remaining towns held by his supporters.

A brigade of NTC-backed fighters advanced into Bani Walid Sept. 9, a day ahead of a deadline to surrender, after loyalists fired Grad rockets at the surrounding forces. Opposition troops say they encountered strong resistance in the town.

“They used the time that we gave them as a deadline to begin to reinforce,” Jalal el-Gallal, a spokesman for the council, said in a phone interview today from Tripoli. “The Qaddafi battalions took the opportunity to dig in, which means we need a greater force to dislodge them. We want to stem the bloodshed and reduce the causalities, but it’s a double-edged sword. If you don’t give them the opportunity, they say you’re bloodthirsty.”

Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril of the transitional council called Sept. 8 for national reconciliation and unity.

Internal Battle

“The first battle is against Qaddafi and his regime,” Jibril told reporters. “This will end by the capturing or the elimination of Qaddafi. However, the battle that is more difficult is against ourselves. How can we achieve reconciliation and achieve peace and security and agree on a constitution? We must not attack each other or push each other away.”

There is longstanding tension between western Libya, Qaddafi’s heartland, and the east, where years of simmering unrest fueled by political and economic resentment spawned this year’s uprising. In addition, the rebel coalition that has been bound together by hatred of a shared foe will be tested as leaders jockey for power and resources.

The rebel Halbus brigade from Misrata entered the suburbs of Bani Walid along the Maldoon Valley, getting to 10 kilometers (six miles) from the town center, according to Khalid Abdula Salem, commander of the rebel Western Front, in an interview from his headquarters in the oasis Abdul Rauf.

They found some homes displaying the rebel tricolor and others the green flag of the Qaddafi regime, Salem said.

Bani Walid’s garrison is composed of the elite 32nd Brigade commanded by Qaddafi’s son Khamis, members of the Legion Thoria secret police, and units of mercenaries from Darfur, Salem said.

Oil Production

More than six months of fighting to end Qaddafi’s 42-year rule have reduced oil output and disrupted power supplies in the country with Africa’s largest crude reserves. The petroleum industry’s infrastructure is mainly intact, Guma El-Gamaty, the NTC’s U.K. coordinator, said in a Sept. 8 interview.

An 80,000 metric-ton cargo of Libyan crude is being offered for shipment from Mellitah this month, according to three people with direct knowledge of the transaction.

The oil, equal to about 600,000 barrels, will be loaded from Sept. 15 to Sept. 17, the people said, declining to be identified because the consignment hasn’t been publicly announced.

Libya resumed operations at its 120,000 barrel-a-day Zawiyah refinery near Tripoli about two weeks ago, El-Gamaty said. The plant is processing 30,000 barrels a day and will reach full capacity in six to eight weeks, he said. The eastern crude export facility in Tobruk is undamaged, he added.

The International Monetary Fund said yesterday it recognized the NTC as holding Libya’s seat at the Washington-based fund and is preparing to send an economic support team.

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