By Arab News
The killing of the Libyan opposition fighters’ military commander Abdel Fattah Younis is a dangerous turn of events for the uprising against the Qaddafi regime. It is unclear whether he was killed by pro-Qaddafi gunmen as suggested by the head of the Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, or by opposition fighters within the uprising. Much will depend on how the opposition fighters respond when the full facts become known. The whole affair is murky in the extreme. Hours before the murder was announced, rumors had been circulating in Benghazi that he had been arrested, allegedly for links with Qaddafi. But Jalil said he had not been arrested, rather “summoned for questioning,” and killed with two aides on his way to meet with members of the TNC. It is quite possible that a gunfight erupted between Jalil and those sent to bring him in but there had been reports of rivalries at the top of the opposition forces, in particular between Younis, and another general, Khalifa Hifter. Moreover, many in Benghazi disliked and distrusted Younis, who had helped bring Qaddafi to power and for many years had been his trusted and oppressive interior minister.
The killing exposes both the opposition’s chaotic military and political structures. Technically, Jalil is technically commander in chief but has no control over the campaign, nor does he have much real political power either. The TNC is an ad hoc gathering of individuals with different political visions, some of them with long-term personal ambitions, united only by their determination to rid the country of the Qaddafi regime. Younis’ killing could fracture that unity.
It is, however, unlikely to stall the military campaign on the ground. The killing may temporarily sap the morale of the opposition forces in the eastern front which was controlled by Younis, but the other two battlegrounds, at Misrata and in the western Nafusa mountains, are entirely separate military campaigns, run by local military commanders. In any event, although the opposition forces started to move westward after weeks of stalemate, it is not clear on the eastern front how much of Brega they now control while on the Misrata front they are still stuck outside Ziltan. Only in the Nafusa mountains is the momentum continuing — and likely to continue. That may well revive confidence in Benghazi. Meanwhile the NATO strikes will not stop.
Potentially the most serious consequence of the killing is what it does to international support. It could not have happened at a more delicate time when the TNC is looking forward to further financial and political aid. On Wednesday, the UK finally recognized the TNC as the sole Libyan government and moved to release blocked Libyan funds to it. Other governments have also been taking steps to make money available. The killing could put a brake on that. However, those countries that have recognized the TNC are not going to change policy because of one assassination. The likelihood is that behind the scenes, they will put extreme pressure on the opposition forces to rally together and continue the struggle. The serious damage for the TNC will be in the number of other countries now hold back from engaging with it or recognizing it and — very important for the uprising — releasing Libyan funds invested with them.