TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi’s body, bloodied and half-naked on a filthy mattress in a meat locker, is the latest spoil of war hauled back to Misrata by its exuberant fighters, confident they are Libya’s fiercest revolutionaries.
The city of Misrata became something of a symbol for the revolt against Gaddafi after it fell to rebels early in the war and then stayed in their hands throughout, despite a merciless bombardment and lengthy siege by the Libyan army.
And now, with its fighters having played such a major part in the war and that fact hammered home by its claiming of some of the most potent symbols of Gaddafi’s downfall, the city is emerging as a powerful player in post-Gaddafi Libya.
“There are other brigades from all over the country who fought to defeat Gaddafi. But it’s true the Misrata freedom fighters were mostly responsible for taking Tripoli and for capturing Gaddafi,” a Tripoli-based interim government official, who did not want to be named for fear of prejudicing delicate negotiations about posts in the new government, told Reuters.
“The city will have to be rewarded for that and I think that it will be,” he said.
Interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril went to Misrata on Friday to talk to its leaders about what to do with Gaddafi’s corpse.
The country’s new government does not want to see his grave become a place of pilgrimage for his supporters or for it to be desecrated by his enemies.
NTC sources in Tripoli say that, though his body is expected to be buried in a secret location, the Misratans do not want Gaddafi’s final resting place to be on their turf.
Some officials say concessions, including senior government jobs, could be offered in exchange for a change of heart.
Much of Misrata was destroyed by tank fire and constant shelling by Gaddafi’s forces. Its water supplies were deliberately cut and food began to run out, but it resisted the onslaught.
Blooded by that battle, its fighters then played a major role in the fall of Tripoli and were responsible for snatching Gaddafi.
Gaddafi’s body has become a grisly attraction for the city’s residents as it awaits burial. Two other “trophies”, among the fallen leader’s most eye-catching possessions, were also driven to Misrata after its fighters overran his Tripoli compound.
The most visible is Gaddafi’s symbol of his contempt for the West; a giant golden statue of a hand crushing a U.S. warplane. It now stands, sprayed with revolutionary slogans and painted with Libya’s new flag, on Misrata’s Tripoli Street which was razed during the bombardment.
“I think there are some people in Tripoli who might be wanting that back,” one Western diplomat said as he looked at the statue.
The diplomat was alluding to the fact that the brigades from Misrata did not consult the leaders of the interim government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), before looting Gaddafi’s Tripoli compound or before carting his battered body home with them from Sirte.
Behind the warplane statue is a museum dedicated to Misratans who died during the war and a collection of the weapons they used to defend their city.
To the statue’s right, precariously perched on the footpath outside the museum, is the other big Tripoli trophy; a giant statue of an eagle looted from the roof of Gaddafi’s home inside his Bab al-Aziziya headquarters and command centre.
Some Libyan political analysts see Misrata, the country’s third largest city after Tripoli and the other rebel stronghold, Benghazi, growing more confident about its post-war clout. Benghazi and Misrata felt sidelined during Gaddafi’s rule and all three are now jostling for position in the new Libya.
And, unlike the corpse, the fist and the eagle are symbols of influence that Misrata intends to hold on to.
Editing by Jon Hemming