Turmoil in Benghazi, rebel advances in western Libya
While NATO-backed rebel forces have made stunning territorial gains against Qaddafi, the rebels' government is in complete disarray after the murder of its top general. What's going on in Libya?
The argument that Libya's rebels have a united, responsible, and broadly supported transitional government in waiting for the moment Muammar Qaddafi falls has been shredded this week by the harsh reality of factionalization and political inexperience.Skip to next paragraph
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The July 28 murder of rebel military commander Gen. Abdel Fateh Younes laid bare rifts in Benghazi, the rebel capital, that had been simmering below the surface for some time. Who exactly killed General Younes, a longtime stalwart of Mr. Qaddafi's engine of repression who defected shortly after the uprising began in February, still remains murky.
But the conflicting, sometimes contradictory statements that the rebels' Transitional National Council (TNC) have issued in the days since then support the likelihood that it was members of the anti-Qaddafi camp. The statements also suggest that unified command of the patchwork of defected soldiers and officers, neighborhood militias, and eager young revolutionaries who make up the rebel forces is largely a fiction.
The killing outraged the Obeidi tribe to which Younes belonged, and its immediate aftermath raised the specter of internecine fighting for the rebels. That day, gangs of gunmen in pickups roared through Benghazi's streets and the Obeidis warned that if justice isn't delivered, they would take matters into their own hands.
On Monday, TNC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil started to come to grips with the situation by dismissing the 14 members of the council's executive committee, a sort of cabinet for the rebel leadership. Mr. Jalil, a former justice minister for Qaddafi, told Al Jazeera that the dismissals were connected to "administrative mistakes" that somehow led to Younes' murder. The general had been summoned back from the eastern oil town of Brega – where Qaddafi's forces have held on for weeks thanks to the extensive laying of anti-personnel mines around the town – for questioning, and was killed en route.
At first, the council said he was killed by agents of Qaddafi. Then, it was whispered the killing was carried out by a rogue Islamist militia taking revenge against Younes for his work in suppressing Islamist movements inside Libya for Qaddafi. His body was said to have been burned beyond recognition. Others said he'd simply been shot. No one independent seems to know exactly what happened yet, but the overall impression was of both internal confusion and concealment by the rebel leadership, something that has set much of Benghazi on edge.
The British foreign office and the US State Department, which recently recognized the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya, put a brave face on the situation.
The British said "this reshuffle shows that those responsible will be held to account and the dismissal of the executive committee demonstrates the strength and maturity" of the council. A State Department spokeswoman said, "What we see is an effort by the NTC to take a hard look at itself and to make an important step forward that can reassure Libyans that in reshuffling the government, that they have a truly democratic and a truly transparent leadership group."