Control of oil set to dominate post-war politics


AFTERMATH:An outbreak of factional fighting and tribal loyalties could derail the rebellion, writes CHRIS STEPHEN

MUAMMAR GADAFY’S days in Tripoli are numbered with rebel forces attacking his compound in the capital last night.

However, it seems just as clear that the rebel administration, the National Transitional Council, faces a monumental struggle to assert itself as the new Libyan government.

The council is now recognised as the legitimate Libyan government by 32 states, among them the United States. But on the ground it has yet to assert its authority, even unto itself.

Rebel units streaming into the capital from east and west last night each have their tribal and regional affiliations and are unlikely to take orders from a government that many view as representing the interests of Benghazi.

That much is clear in Libya’s third city, Misurata, who’s military command has underlined in recent weeks that they do not take orders from the council generals in Benghazi, beyond agreeing co-operation in launching offensives. There is some bitterness also over Benghazi’s insistence that Misurata’s rebels pay for the weapons. A brigade sent in July from Benghazi to reinforce Misurata’s rebels was sent home, after militia leaders complained.

Moreover, these problems are likely to be doubled for Tripoli, where Gadafy’s fall will leave the bulk of his former regime intact. The council has tried to solve the problem by including among its 49 members seats for representatives from Tripoli, Misurata and other places. But too often the complaint is that these places are chosen by the council.

The murder of rebel army commander Abdul Fatah Younes underlined the council’s inability to speak with a single voice. In the days that followed council president Mustafa Abdul Jalil retreated into his shell rather than answer awkward questions about what role his forces played in the general’s death.

How much greater will be Jalil’s challenge in sowing together a factional country, a sizable minority of whom remained loyal to the Gadafy regime to the end? It is easy to imagine a scenario in which the council imposes outside security forces on Tripoli, to be confronted by protesters pointing out that it remains a self-appointed administration.

Talk of an outside force from the UN or Nato to keep the peace seems premature, not least because, if the factionalism erupts into fighting, the peacekeepers will find it hard to know who to confront.

On the plus side for the council, it can count on backing from four powers who have done the heavy lifting in the winning of the war: Britain and France whose jets did most of the bombing, America, which provided the backup, and Qatar, which has been pouring in aid and loans to keep the council afloat these past six months.

British and French diplomats have been hard at work in Benghazi since May trying to nudge the council into evolving a workable administration. The officials regularly complain that one issue in particular, financial transparency, continues to be an problem; as, apparently, does the rule of law. Take the case of Younes being shot dead in July. No public inquiry has yet been launched into the killing and the cabinet, dismissed on August 8th over its inaction on the matter, has yet to be replaced.

Oil is set to dominate Libya’s post-war transition. Pre-war Libya pumped 1.6 million barrels of it a day, enough to ensure a comfortable living for the country’s six million population.

Oil executives say this is a gross under-production and that with new technology and fresh exploration it can rise to three million barrels a day.

But oil may also be the problem, if the tribal and factional lines along which the present NTC is split resurface in a scramble for the black stuff.