Libya’s interim government forces struggle to bridge the gap and reconcile with Gaddafi loyalists.
Mahmoud Jibril, the prime minister and often the foreign face of Libya’s National Transitional Council, has pledged to resign from government once the country is liberated.
That moment will occur when Sirte, the contested coastal hometown of ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi, is taken by NTC fighters, Jibril said on Monday.
Jibril’s announcement came after news of a potential cabinet reshuffle began to emerge on Sunday evening.
More than a month after the fall of Tripoli, the NTC appeared to have finalised a new cabinet that reportedly aimed to be more representative and take into account the desires of Islamist factions.
Salem Joha, a military commander from Misrata, was set to take over the much-discussed office of defence minister. But on Monday, NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil announced that the current minister, Jalal Dghaili, would maintain his position.
Dghaili is said to be well-respected by Islamists.
The reshuffled cabinet may have a short life. According to the NTC’s draft interim constitution, the NTC will form a new interim government in Tripoli after the “announcement of liberation,” which Jibril and others have said will come after the capture of Sirte.
The draft constitution lays out a timeline whereby Libya would see legislative and presidential elections within a year after liberation, though NTC politicians have said they could come sooner.
Many ministers held onto their portfolios in the new interim cabinet. Jibril remains, temporarily, as prime minister but also assumes the role of foreign minister. Ali Tarhouni remains as oil and finance minister, and Ahmad Darrat stays on as interior minister.
Prime and Foreign Minister Mahmoud Jibril
Defence Minister Jalal Dghaili
Oil and Finance Minister Ali Tarhouni
Interior Minister Ahmad Darrat
Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam
Minister for Libyans Killed or Wounded Ali Essawy (New)
Islamic Affairs Minister Hamza Abu Fas (New)
Under the terms of the interim constitution, no member of the NTC will be allowed to serve in Libya’s elected post-revolution government. By speaking out on Monday, Jibril became the first NTC member to publicly declare he would not do so.
Jibril’s announcement appeared to reflect growing dissatisfaction with him among influential members of the revolution.
“I think Mr. Jibril has realised that he has lost the confidence of people on the ground,” Anis Sharif, a member of the Tripoli military council, told Al Jazeera. “I think most Libyans, after 40 years of a one-man show of Libyan dictatorship, they don’t want another one man show. It’s the right time for him to leave.”
Jibril himself acknowledged his drop in popular esteem but framed it as a personal attack.
“No man is infallible, and we cannot be perfect until we listen to criticism, however what I heard was a personal smear campaign and the matter is completely different,” Jibril said. “If my response would be to reciprocate I would fall to very inferior levels. This would push the revolution astray from the main course.”
Waheed Burshan, a member of the NTC stabilisation team that crafted the opposition’s post-Gaddafi logistics, said Jibril had “obviously” been pressured to make the statement promising his resignation.
“I think the decision is correct, in terms of choosing him [to remain as interim prime minister], continuing as is pretty much until they resolve all internal politics,” Burshan told Al Jazeera.
As political wrangling continued in Tripoli, NTC fighters appeared to gain ground around Sirte on Monday, seizing the town of Abu Hadi, around five kilometres south of the town.
Fighting also continued on the west side of town, where NTC fighters breached a perimeter wall in an effort to reach the city centre, Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr reported.
The offensive there began in afternoon, and heavy explosion could be heard from the town.
Nearly three weeks into the siege of Sirte, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said that the humanitarian situation there is grave. Citizens fleeing the town say they are running out of food and water, unable to access medical care, enduring bombardments from both NTC and loyalist fighters, and suffering intimidation from loyalists if they try to leave.
NTC fighters are unhappy with the ICRC for delivering supplies to the town rather than evacuating wounded people and searching for disappeared residents, our correspondent reported.
The fighters want the ICRC to help wounded civilians who took up arms in support of the NTC and to search for men said to be “holed up” inside a prison in town, Khodr said.
Monday’s combat came despite a unilateral ceasefire declared by the NTC on Sunday in order to allow civilians to leave.
The Red Cross reached Sirte on Saturday, delivering medical kits and fuel for the main Ibn Sina Hospital. The aid team said they could not reach the hospital itself due to fighting.
NTC fighters told Al Jazeera they believe it is only a “matter of days” before they take Sirte.