The war has been won, say Libya's new rulers
Libya’s new leaders are poised to declare the country’s “full liberation” is complete and appoint a new transitional government.
The new government regards the war as, in effect, won—even though there is still heavy fighting in former leader Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, one of the last loyalist holdouts, and Bani Walid still remains under the control of pro-Gaddafi forces who are besieged inside.
The declaration and the formation of a new government—with elections planned after eight months—are intended to bring an end to an increasingly dangerous political vacuum in Libya.
The interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, and the head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, plan to step down, having pledged to take no further part in the country’s future government. The NTC constitution specifies that no temporary government figures should serve in any future elected Libyan government.
The latest attempts to bring about an end to the developing political crisis in Libya comes as military leaders described the latest push on Sirte, which began on Monday after a two-day truce, as the “final assault”.
Anti-Gaddafi fighters backed by Nato aircraft have made slow progress in capturing Sirte, facing fierce resistance from former regime loyalists inside the town where weeks of fighting have triggered a humanitarian crisis among its civilian population.
It has become clear in the past few days, however, that the country’s new rulers are now anxious to bring the siege of Sirte to a quick conclusion.
Originally it had been understood that no new government would be announced until all of the remaining pockets of pro-Gaddafi resistance had been liberated, including the town of Bani Walid.
But Abdul-Jalil told a press conference in Benghazi that, unlike the coastal city of Sirte, the landlocked Bani Walid did not pose a threat to Libya’s borders.
“We ask Libyans to understand that this is a sensitive and critical stage,” he said, referring to growing concern over delays in appointing a government to lead the country into its first elections since the fall of the Gaddafi regime.
It emerged that a commander from the city of Misrata, understood to be Salem Jouha, is expected to be the country’s defence minister after liberation.
Misrata has distanced itself from the NTC in recent weeks and Libya’s new rulers have struggled since the fall of Tripoli to reconcile all the competing political interests. Friction remains between more secular figures and Islamists such as Abdel Hakim Belhaj, head of Tripoli’s military council, who wrote in the Guardian last week that Islamists should not be sidelined in the new Libya.
The renewed political and military focus on Sirte comes as a Red Cross convoy was prevented from reaching the town on Monday to deliver supplies to the Ibn Sina hospital.
NTC fighters have denied a claim they are to blame for starting the shooting.
With no electricity, and shortages of food, medicine and drinking water, aid groups warned of an impending humanitarian disaster in the city. Several thousand people have managed to escape—some taking up to 10 days to get out—but other civilians are still trapped in Sirte, which continues to be bombed by Nato aircraft and shelled by fighters of the new government.
NTC troops said on Monday they now controlled most of Qasr Abu Hadi, the small town close to Sirte where Gaddafi was born in a tent in 1942.—