Libya's transitional leaders named a new Cabinet Monday and vowed to step down after the country is secured, a move designed to show the North African nation is moving on even though fighting persists and Moammar Gadhafi remains at large.
The announcement was made jointly by the head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, and de facto Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril in a news conference following weeks of political infighting and delays over the formation of a new government.
In the end, the Cabinet lineup did not contain many changes, prompting many Libyans to question why it took so long, coming about six weeks after revolutionary forces seized the capital, Tripoli, and forced Gadhafi into hiding.
Jibril, who graduated from and taught strategic planning at the University of Pittsburgh for several years, remains in his position but also takes over as foreign minister, meaning his current deputy and Foreign Minister Ali al-Issawi is out. Ali al-Tarhouni, a U.S.-educated economist, will continue acting as oil minister until the National Oil Company is ready to take over.
The new leaders said they would remain in place until the country is secured and liberation is declared, then a new transitional government would be formed within a month.
"We have signed a pledge to the Libyan people that we will not be part of the future government not in any way," Abdul-Jalil said to applause.
The pledge was intended to reassure the public they will not suffer under another dictatorship.
Revolutionary forces are still battling loyalists of Gadhafi on two major fronts as well as pockets deep in the southern desert. But Jibril said he had asked that liberation be declared after Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte is captured because that would ensure that all sea, land and air entry ports are secure.
He acknowledged fighting would continue in Bani Walid, where the terrain and the harboring of suspected high-level regime figures _ possibly including Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam _ has led to a weekslong standoff. But he said it was important to declare victory and begin rebuilding the country.
"Bani Walid doesn't have any international exits," Jibril said. "And it is very important to begin and speed up the transitional process and begin the democratic stage."
The NTC has promised to hold elections eight months after the end of fighting.
A new minister for Libyans killed and wounded was also named. He is Abdel-Rahman al-Keissah, described as a lawyer who was wounded in the fighting. Hamza Abu Fas will replace Sheik Salem al-Sheiki as the minister of religious affairs.
When asked if members of the Cabinet might remain in their posts after liberation, Jibril said that would be up to the future leadership and would depend on their performance.
"We ask Libyans to understand that this is a sensitive and critical stage," Abdul-Jalil told reporters in the eastern city of Benghazi, which was the birthplace of the revolution.
NATO, meanwhile, expressed concern about the possibility that thousands of portable surface-to-air missiles left over from Gadhafi's regime are missing in Libya. NATO airstrikes played a key role in the rebellion that ousted Gadhafi.
"It is a matter of concern if stockpiles of weapons are not properly controlled and monitored," Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
He was responding to a report that thousands of SAM-7 shoulder-launched, surface-to-air missiles allegedly disappeared after the defeat of loyalist forces by Libyan rebels supported by NATO airstrikes.
A meeting of NATO defense ministers on Wednesday and Thursday is expected to focus in part on the operation over Libya.
The United States and other Western nations have been trying to reduce the global stock of portable missiles, fearing they could fall into the hands of terrorists. The small, easily concealable SAM-7s are considered obsolete by modern military standards but could pose a threat to civilian airliners or helicopters.
Underscoring concerns about a rise of extremism in Libya, the leader of al-Qaida's North African branch issued an audio recording Monday on a militant website urging the revolutionaries who ousted Gadhafi to establish Islamic rule.
A man identified as Abdelmalek Droukdel of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, also warned the former rebels not to succumb to "NATO blackmail." He said the Libyan revolution victory would inspire an Algerian revolution.
Gamel reported from Tripoli. Associated Press writers Slobodan Lekic in Brussels and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.