Planning for Libya's transition shifts into high gear

Libya's rebel council is meeting with international officials in Qatar today to arrange $2.5 billion in funding for an interim government.

Osama Faisal/AP
Mahmoud Jibril, the No. 2 leader in the National Transitional Council of Libya, speaks during a press conference in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday, Aug. 23, hours after rebel forces overran Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's fortified Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, following heavy fighting.

Representatives of Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) are sitting down with officials from around the world in Doha, Qatar, today in a meeting expected to arrange $2.5 billion in emergency financing for an interim Libyan government and to shape the international role in Libya moving forward.

Rebellion against Muammar Qaddafi's 42-year rule is not yet complete. But the collapse of Qaddafi's defenses in Tripoli now has transition plans shifting into high gear.

Mahmoud Jibril, who is formally the NTC's No. 2 leader behind Mustafa Abdel Jalil, said in a press conference last night that the rebel government-in-waiting will soon move to Tripoli. It is eager for emergency funding before the Eid al-Fitr celebration that marks the end of Ramadan in a few days, which is the biggest Muslim holiday of the year.

Many government salaries have gone unpaid and Jibril said the NTC wants foreign financing to reassure police and other officials that Libya's new order will look after them, and the country.

"We have to be transparent in front of the whole world," he told a Doha press conference last night. "Now we have to concentrate on building and healing our wounds."

Mr. Abdel Jalil was quoted in Italy's Repubblica newspaper this morning saying that he expects presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya by next April. "We want a democratic government and a just constitution," he said.

Jibril was less specific, saying the next political step would be to hold a national congress to set a constitutional drafting process in motion. He said a referendum would be held on a new constitution, and that elections would soon follow, but he didn't give a time frame.

Jibril is expected to be in Paris today to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the earliest and most ardent backers of NATO intervention in Libya. Mr. Sarkozy is also hoping to convene a large international meeting in Paris sometime in the next two weeks to coordinate international aid.

In theory, the actual cost to international powers should be low. Jibril said yesterday that more than $150 billion in Libyan assets are abroad, currently frozen by the sanctions placed on Qaddafi in response to his crackdown on democracy protesters that sparked Libya's civil war. The country also has Africa's highest oil reserves, though national production has been reduced to a trickle by the war and it will probably be a year, at least, before production nears pre-war levels.

The immediate task for the rebels is to take full control of Tripoli, which is still beset with pockets of heavy fighting. Then they must take up the hard work of reassuring the many Libyans who have been involved with Qaddafi's regime that they will not face the sort of reprisals that were standard during his rule.

The rebels will also have to stitch together the patchwork of local notables and militia commanders, many operating completely outside the structures the NTC has sought to create, into a coherent whole. Though the uprising's earliest successes were in the eastern half of the country, which has a history of rivalry with western Libya, the march on Tripoli was carried out by guerrillas largely drawn from the west.

UN Special Envoy for Libya Abdel-Elah al-Khatib and Ian Martin, a British national who has held senior human rights and transitional government roles for the UN from Rwanda to East Timor to Nepal, are at the meeting. Mr. Martin has been quietly working for months on transition issues, including maintaining law and order after regime collapse and encouraging reconciliation inside Libya, for months.

When precisely those plans will go into effect is unclear, with core regime figures are still defiant.

Moussa Ibrahim, Qaddafi's principal spokesman, implied yesterday that the regime has made plans to fight a long insurgency.

"We are able to fight, not for days or months but for years ... and we have made plans and alternative plans," he said in a brief phone interview with the pro-regime Al-Ouraba TV last night.

While many of the government's official statements have had a high bluster-to-reality ratio, the prospect can't be dismissed. The brigade of soldiers commanded by Khamis Qaddafi, who has a reputation as the most ruthlessly efficient enforcer among the Qaddafi sons, appears to be largely intact, and the paranoia of Qaddafi senior saw him order the construction of underground bunkers and hiding places around the country decades ago.

Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte remains out of rebel hands, though it's now largely surrounded by anti-Qaddafi fighters. And sparsely populated southern Libya, where Qaddafi steered government largesse to key tribes, also remains largely out of the NTC's control.

Of particular concern is Sabha, a city of about 150,000 in the desert 500 miles south of Tripoli where Qaddafi declared Libya a "Jamahiriyya" in 1977. The word, of Qaddafi's invention, referred to Qaddafi's preferred form of government – with people ruling directly, unmediated by institutions. As a practical concern, it meant all power flowed from him.

Now his reach is extremely limited and power is clearly in the hands of those seeking the change in Libya.

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