Daily Israel Report

Rebel Fighters Raise Ire, Concern in Tripoli

As Libya's new leaders appoint a new cabinet to rule the country, its fighters in Tripoli have raised concerns for the future.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 10/3/2011, 10:20 PM

Tensions soar in Tripoli where roving bands of rebel fighters refuse to leave after storming the city to end the 42-year rule of Muammar Qaddafi in August.

The continued presence of the fighters, who are said to number in the hundreds, have raised concerns about the new regime's stability even as Libya's national transitional council appointed a new cabinet to administer the country on Monday.

The fighters, from all over Libya, and starkly defined by tribal and regional loyalties rather than national unity, have strenuously objected to accepting centralized civilian authority.

Instead, AFP reports, the fighters have frustrated residents by setting up checkpoints, wandering through the streets, firing automatic weapons into the night sky, and speeding through otherwise quiet neighborhoods in pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

The fighters’ utter lack of discipline and refusal to return home casts a dark shadow on the much hailed vow by the transitional civilian leadership that they would step down after the country is fully secured.

The head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, and de facto prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, announced their intentions to step down in a joint news conference in the former rebel stronghold of Benghazi, 

"We have signed a pledge ... that we will not take part in any future government in any way," Abdul-Jalil told Reuters.

The NTC has promised to hold elections eight months after the end of fighting, but no mention has been made of the promised constitutional referendum to determine what the nature of Libya's future will be.

The announcement comes as rebels are still battling Qaddafi loyalists on two major fronts, as well as pockets deep in the southern desert. But Abdul-Jalil said liberation will be declared after Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte is captured because that would ensure the borders are secure.

The definition of victory as the capture of the Mediterranean coastal city of Sirte is seen by many as a tacit acknowledgment that the fierce resistance in the town of Bani Walid is likely to continue. But Abdul-Jalil insisted Bani Walid is landlocked and doesn't pose a threat to Libya's borders.

"We ask Libyans to understand that this is a sensitive and critical stage," he told reporters.

After weeks of wrangling, the new interim Cabinet lineup did not contain many changes. Jibril remains in his position but also takes over as foreign minister, meaning his current deputy and foreign minister Ali al-Issawi is out. Ali al-Tarhouni, a U.S.-educated economist, will continue acting as oil minister until the National Oil Company is ready to take over.

But many observers worry the legitimacy of future elections, even with the interim civilian leaders vowing to step down, could be undermined if the rebel fighters aren't brought firmly under civilian control and forced to return home.