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?
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But so far, no one has been held accountable for Younes's murder. The cabinet dismissal has left the political leadership in a sort of limbo, with a replacement not yet forthcoming.Skip to next paragraph
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Some new faces may be brought in, perhaps to reassure rebels in the west who are increasingly estranged from and suspicious of the Benghazi leadership. New faces may also be meant to balance tribal and other interests. But that remains to be seen.
As for democracy, the rebel government remains largely self-appointed. While many Libyans in the east have been comfortable with that until now – someone needs to represent them and there's a war on, after all – there have been increasing complaints from average Libyans about incompetence and a lack of communication.
Meanwhile a NATO air strike may well have killed a number of Libyan civilians near Zlitan yesterday. The Times of London reports that the Qaddafi regime took foreign journalists based in Tripoli to the site where it claimed more than 80 civilians were killed. The press pack in Tripoli has grown extremely jaded after months of Potemkin-like guided tours of alleged civilian death scenes in which Libyan "witnesses" have gone off script, pulled stragglers aside to whisper they've been ordered to lie about events, and in which bodies were in short supply.
But while there appears to have been some deception in this case – The Times's report says a local doctor said 37 dead were counted before quickly correcting himself to match the official death toll – that something tragic happened seems more credible than usual. Journalists saw at least 14 dead, including an infant girl.
Zlitan has become a hotly contested frontline between Tripoli and the opposition-controlled town of Misrata to the east. NATO has conducted dozens of raids in the area in recent weeks, and rebels are hopeful that if the town could be taken, a route would open up to the capital.
The rebel – and NATO – pressure on Zlitan is a reminder that for all the political problems back in Benghazi, stunning gains have been made in the area since the war began. Six weeks ago, Misurata was entirely besieged by Qaddafi's forces, the town reliant for supplies from the sea. Since that siege was decisively broken, rebels have pressed their gains towards Tripoli, as other rebel groups in the Nafusa mountains to the north of Tripoli have also grown in strength.
While that's good news for those hoping for Qaddafi's downfall, it also raises troubling questions about the aftermath, were Tripoli to fall. In those areas, local rebel leaders are in command, and they insist they don't take orders from Benghazi.
The facade of coordination and unity among rebel groups that was well maintained in the early days of the war has seriously slipped in recent weeks. Now, any assurances given that there will be no reprisals or score-settling in the wake of a rebel victory have to be taken with a grain of salt. Battlefield gains, with large dollops of NATO help, are clearly being made. But on the political front – particularly regarding what a transition might look like – the picture grows cloudier by the day.