(Updates with comments from NATO in fifth paragraph, opposition fighters starting in sixth.)
Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Political infighting and the doggedness of Muammar Qaddafi’s loyalists are hampering the drive by Libya’s interim leaders to complete the liberation of the North African nation and form a new government.
Political struggles should be postponed until “the soil of Libya is fully liberated,” Qaddafi is arrested and a constitution drawn up, National Transitional Council Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said in an interview with Saudi newspaper Al Hayat. “Many have forgotten or deliberately ignore the fact that the land is not yet liberated and that the battle is not over. They began their political struggle too early.”
The announcement of an interim Cabinet has been repeatedly postponed since the NTC took Tripoli in late August, with officials saying last week that another week may be needed. Qaddafi’s forces have held off council fighters, backed by North Atlantic Treaty Organization airstrikes, in his hometown of Sirte and Bani Walid for about a month.
NATO destroyed targets in the center of Sirte that it said were being used to attack civilians, according to a Sept. 24 statement on its website.
“Among the reports emerging from Sirte are executions, hostage-taking and the calculated targeting of individual families and communities,” according to NATO, which started its campaign in March, about a month after the uprising began.
Anti-Qaddafi forces units pulled back from Sirte yesterday after a request from NATO, said an opposition fighter from the city of Misrata, whose military council is leading the operation.
“NATO told them to pull back, they wanted to bomb,” Ben Ahmeda said in an interview. “NATO saw the firing places of the Qaddafi guys so they know where their guns are.”
Opposition forces, which first entered Sirte on Sept. 8, have been unable to capture loyalist strongholds, including the Ouagadougou Hall complex, where Qaddafi held meetings of African and Arab leaders.
Qaddafi loyalists are especially determined to hold their positions in Sirte because Mutassim Qaddafi, one of the former leaders’ sons, is there, according to another fighter.
“We caught one of their commanders,” said Hakim Muktar of Al Moharb brigade, who fought in Sirte yesterday. “He told us that Mutassim is there. He is in command. That is why there is such a big fight.”
Another of Qaddafi’s sons, Saif-al-Islam, is inside Bani Walid, 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of Tripoli, according to reports on Television Misrata yesterday that cited intercepted radio traffic.
Senior members of the NTC are meeting in the eastern city of Benghazi today for a second of day of talks on forming the Cabinet.
“Differences in opinion on the priorities of the portfolios exist at this stage,” Jibril told Al Arabiya television in an interview yesterday.
The challenge is ensuring the representation of all Libyans in the new government, he said.
“The divisions are about regional affinities, city-based affinities, ties to former regime, about ensuring that people are represented in important posts,” Shashank Joshi, a Libya expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said today in an interview. “It’s going to be a challenge, but they will eventually do it.”
The NTC has decided to extend the term of the current administration until the remaining pockets of armed Qaddafi loyalists are defeated and the whole country is under the council’s control, according to Al Arabiya.
“They set the wrong expectations, they over-promised and under-delivered,” Joshi said. “They should have been lowering expectations, and telling people how difficult it would be. At least the negotiations are taking place in a peaceful framework so far.”
--Editors: Karl Maier, Andrew J. Barden
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