Tripoli has fallen and ... the battle for Tripoli rages on
In a chaotic city, Libya's rebels are having trouble telling friend from foe. Misinformation is rife and Qaddafi loyalists still have plenty of reason to fight on.
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Now that the shoe is being fitted for the other foot, many in Tripoli likely fear they'll be dealt with in the same fashion – at the hands of rebel fighters. In the absence of clear evidence that the rebels in the city are under a unified command, whose leaders could reach out and guarantee security for Qaddafi's fighters in exchange for laying down their arms, a rational choice for many may be to fight on.Skip to next paragraph
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Adding to the confusion was the strange episode of Seif al-Islam, Qaddafi's son and a key political fixer for his father who has frequently dismissed Libya's uprising as filled with "rats." On Monday, rebels claimed that Seif had been arrested – a position supported by top International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who has warrants on both Seif and Qaddafi himself.
But early in the morning on Tuesday, Seif rolled up to the Rixos Hotel in a convoy to chat with foreign journalists and to promise continued resistance.
Mohammed Qaddafi, another son, was said to be arrested – and even gave an interview on Al Jazeera while he said he was in rebel custody at his home. That interview was cut short when gunfire broke out in the house, and Mohammed began saying his prayers. The line went dead. A few hours later he was reported to have escaped – but who exactly originally held him, and the details of his escape, are unclear.
The confusion surrounding the two sons sends as clear a signal as any that the fog of war remains thick – and the fact that Seif was able to safely navigate the center of Tripoli tells us that real control of Tripoli remains contested.
What does this mean in the long run? Not that Qaddafi will win the day. Any chance of that seems well past. But the speed with which rebel leaders can coordinate their efforts (many of the fighters in Tripoli don't answer to the eastern-based Transitional National Council, at least not yet), consolidate their positions in Tripoli, and pacify the city (with a minimum of bloodshed), will set the tone for the transitional period.
Days of street fighting in Tripoli will create room for looting, for Qaddafi's holdouts to make mischief, and for challenges to the credibility of the soon-to-be victorious rebels to be challenged by Libyans ready to jettison Qaddafi but perhaps unwilling to cede their own positions of influence inside the country.