The other rebellion was more simple but not more pure: the armed insurrection of the past six months, fought in olive groves and ghost towns and propelled forward by fierce, pious, lethal hillbillies like Muktar al-Akhdar, a commander from the western mountains whose rugged militiamen burst into Tripoli over the weekend and appear on the verge of toppling Gaddafi.
“We knew from the start that our revolution would cost lives. We weren’t scared, but we knew. We knew we could not fight tanks with flowers,” Akhdar said a few days before the rebels’ final push toward Tripoli. Protest would not bring change. That was the thinking of outsiders, of Americans and Europeans and expatriates, he said. “Not in Libya. Not with Gaddafi. We have been together for 42 years. No flowers.”
What moves men such as Muktar al-Akhdar, and what he expects of his revolution, may shape the new Libya as much as the negotiators now writing first drafts of a constitution. Akhdar matters because he has suffered, he has dreams — and he is heavily armed.
Akhdar is believed to be alive and in Tripoli. The last time reporters saw him was 10 days ago. More recently, people who know him said by e-mail that Akhdar was in the capital with his men.
Most of the rebel fighters pouring into Tripoli carry battered AK-47s, the ubiquitous kalashnikov with varnished wooden stocks. But on the plains south of Tripoli, Muktar al-Akhdar cradled a vicious, short-barreled FN assault rifle, a weapon favored by Gaddafi’s special forces.
Where did he get such a gun? He drew a slow thumb across his throat. “Dead,” Akhdar answered, the government soldier who carried this weapon was killed by rebels. “The others ran away.” He slapped the metal hard. “This one did not.”
The 54-year-old commander and father of six, who looks made of wire and leather, did not smile at the memory of Libyans fighting Libyans. Capable of a few words in English, he called his fallen enemy “a good boy, very brave.”
Then he held up his hands, like they are strangers, and said, “Blood.”
There is blood on his hands.
A town of martyrs
Akhdar’s rolling command center is his pickup truck, camouflaged with smeared mud and hung with goatskins of water. The bed is pocked by jagged bullet holes. Someone has left a grenade to bounce around on the front seat.
Locals swear that forces loyal to Gaddafi fired 3,000 Grad rockets in and around Zintan, still scattered with burnt husks of Russian- and Chinese-made tanks, destroyed by guided NATO missiles and homemade gasoline bombs. Of all the towns of the Nafusa mountains, the Zintanis, known for their grit, arrogance and wit, produced the most martyrs. More than 125 of their portraits hang in the town square.