Divisions could hamper Libyan rebels' cause

Recent events have cast doubts on whether the anti-Qaddafi opposition can maintain unity and exercise control over liberated regions.

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Bloody incidents behind the Libyan rebels' lines over the past few days have highlighted the divisions within their ranks, and the internal difficulties they may face as they continue in their efforts to oust Colonel Muammar Qaddafi.

On Sunday, rebel forces battled members of the anti-Qaddafi Al Nidaa Brigade on the western outskirts of Benghazi. Two days earlier, disloyal rebel elements allegedly attacked two prisons in Benghazi and released pro-Qaddafi inmates. On Thursday, General Abdel Fattah Younis, military commander for the rebel's Transitional National Council (TNC) was killed in unexplained circumstances.

So far, TNC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil has provided only vague information about the assassination. Ali Tarhuni, who handles the TNC's economic affairs, accused fighters within the rebels' Obaida Ibn al Jarrah brigade, which reportedly included Islamists still holding a grudge against Gen Younis for his old ties to Col Qaddafi. Rebel leaders in Misrata, meanwhile, were reported to have previously refused to obey Gen Younis' orders.

As The National reported on Sunday, Mr Jalil was quick to reiterate after the assassination that the TNC "won't allow disorder in the liberated areas". However, such incidents raise questions about the opposition and their capacity to enforce order in the areas they control.

The varying reactions to the killing also indicate a lack of unity in their struggle: while the assassinated general's Obaidat tribe renewed its pledge to the TNC, his older son and other tribe members expressed support for Col Qaddafi.

Clearly, internal dissent risks undermining the efforts against the Qaddafi regime. On the other hand, such incidents remain inevitable at this time, as defections continue and the rebels struggle to organise themselves.

The TNC claim that the assassination of their chief military commander will strengthen their resolve and make the rebels stronger. It is unclear how that will happen. Indeed, even if Col Qaddafi is defeated, there will be genuine concerns about the ability of the opposition to form a cohesive and efficient government.

As the rebels advance towards Tripoli, they must remember that it's not only military resources, but also political skills and unity, that are needed to achieve their common goal.