Libya power struggle threatens post-Gaddafi unity

  • Reuters, Tripoli
  • |
  • Updated: Sep 10, 2011 19:00 IST

Libya's internationally backed interim council has yet to establish a credible administration in Tripoli, where makeshift armed brigades united only by the six-month struggle against Muammar Gaddafi are now jostling for influence.

Elections are planned, but for now seem a distant prospect to the disparate fighters seeking a stake in Libya's future.

Mahmoud Jibril, de facto Prime Minister of the National Transitional Council (NTC), visited the Libyan capital on Thursday for the first time since Gaddafi's fall on August 23, accusing others of playing "political games" and threatening to resign if infighting erupted in the movement that overthrew Gaddafi.

The NTC has operated from the eastern city of Benghazi, the cradle of the revolt that erupted on Feb 17.

Fighting on the eastern front was bogged down for months until militias from the Western Mountains and the coastal city of Misrata finally turned the tables on Gaddafi's forces.

Those units have set up bases in Tripoli, spraying walls and cars with the names of their home towns. Some fighters wear bandanas and t-shirts with the name of their brigade.

Unruly gunmen often fire into the air, unnerving Tripoli residents. Some Libyans believe that France, Britain, Qatar and other countries that helped the revolt with cash, air power and diplomatic muscle now back rival camps.

"The situation is sensitive. Right now it's all a display of force. I regret it," said Mousa Younis, speaking for a brigade of fighters from Jadu in western Libya.

These fighters, along with men from Misrata, which suffered a devastating siege by Gaddafi forces, feel their role in capturing Tripoli entitles them to a share in power.

"The Misrata and Jadu brigades are worried that new people will come from nowhere and try to take control, to steal the revolution. Who are these people?" asked Younis, whose fighters occupy a beach-side camp at a former Gaddafi-owned resort.

Alongside the brigades is an array of newly formed, and sometimes overlapping, councils and committees set up to administer the capital. Their authority is often disputed.

"They want to keep us out, but we will stay in Tripoli," said Mohammed al-Fortia, a Misrata commander. "If you have the power, they will respect you. We have the power, why not use it? Not to fight, but our presence is important."


The NTC has sent mixed messages to the brigades camped in the capital, with some officials thanking them for their help, but gently asking them to leave, while others insist they stay, arguing that they still have a role with Gaddafi still at large.

The gunfire ringing out in Tripoli most days undermines efforts by Libya's new leaders to present a capital returning to normal and a country moving towards civilian, democratic rule.


The NTC is meant to rule only until elections are held and a constitution drawn up, but that process could be lengthy and will only start once Libya is declared "liberated".

NTC officials have not spelt out what is required for such an announcement, although some say Gaddafi must be killed or captured and pockets of Libya still loyal to him must surrender.

In this uncertain atmosphere, rumours fly, particularly tales of foreign involvement in the power struggle.

"Everybody's trying to get a piece of the pie. The French, the Qataris and the British .... They are giving financial and military backing and intelligence -- not necessarily on the enemy," said an NTC source who declined to be named.


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