The head of the Syrian National Coalition Ahmad al-Jarba asserted that his call to form a national army, which would start at 6,000 men, is aimed at gathering under one umbrella the battalions and brigades that are currently fighting the Syrian regime. He also said that this army would not be akin to the “‘awakenings’ [militias] that the Americans introduced to Iraq in the mid 2000s.”
In his first comprehensive interview, which he gave to Al-Hayat in Jeddah, about the Syrian situation, Jarba denied that he had nominated dissident Brigadier General Manaf Talas to lead the new Syrian national army. “I did not nominate Talas to lead the national army. Manaf should be thanked for his defection from the regime, to which he was close, but that doesn’t mean that he should lead the army,” said Jarba, who also stressed on the need to work on quickly forming a national army that would extend its influence over the liberated areas and prevent the quarrels and reprisals that usually accompany revolutions and wars.
Jarba, whom the Syrian regime imprisoned twice, said, “In the past, we used to face the regime’s army, a frustrated and bankrupt army rife with defections. Today, we are confronting an army that is led by Iran and whose spearhead are the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and Houthi elements. They are waging on us a relentless war with sophisticated weapons. The Iranian army is now desecrating the land of Syria. And we must cleanse Syrian soil from this pollution. This can only happen if there is a strong and trained national army with clear battle plans. We have the human capacity to do so and we need support and arms.”
About the clamor caused by his statement that a national army is needed to eliminate the warlords, Jarba explained, “I meant neither Islamists nor others. [I meant] anyone who tries to exploit the revolution, whether they are secular, leftist, nationalist or Islamist. We have areas in eastern Syria that are liberated and controlled by certain forces. We must end that. This is a national revolution, and it must be preserved.”
He called on friendly countries, especially the Gulf countries, to step up their arming of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). He said that “arming the FSA with high-grade and sophisticated weapons will change the course of the revolution and end it in favor of the Syrian people. We don’t want Syria to go the way of Iraq and fall into Iran’s lap. We have always said that we don’t need men. Syria has enough men. We don’t need fighters coming from abroad. The Syrians are able to resolve the battle to their advantage if they have high-grade weapons.” He stressed on the necessity to fulfill the needs of refugees and displaced persons. He appealed to the Gulf states to be supportive of the Syrian people and to extend them a helping hand.
Jarba stressed that Bashar al-Assad has collapsed and is no longer ruling Syria. “Syria’s real rulers are the leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as well as Hezbollah guerrillas, who came to support and assist Assad,” pointing out that Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has publicly said that his fighters entered Syria “to prevent the fall of Damascus.”
Jarba said that the Syrian regime is playing on the ethnic and religious minorities’ fears. He said that the regime is trying to scare the minorities away from the Syrian revolution and tell them that a group of extremists want to kill and displace the minorities. “But the Syrian street has started to realize the magnitude of these lies, as evidenced by the fact that our revolution has Sunnis and Shiites, Muslims and Christians, Druze and Kurds and Turkmen, all of whom participated in the revolution. Not only that, but we also have Alawite officers participating in the revolution,” he said.
He added, “Let me tell you something. We have Alawite and non-Alawite officers, as well as ambassadors who wish to split from the Assad regime. We told them to stay where they are because they can help the revolution more by supplying us with information and by making moves. We appreciate that from them and we are following up with them.”
Jarba pointed out that the FSA controls less than half of Syria and that large parts of Damascus, Latakia, Aleppo, Hama and Idlib are in the rebels’ hands.
Jarba expressed his displeasure with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government because it is introducing extremist fighters to Syria and not preventing Iranian planes, loaded with weapons, from flying over Iraqi airspace and delivering those weapons to Syria, where they are used to kill Syrian people.
Regarding Maliki’s involvement in the mass prisoner escape in Iraq, Jarba said, “No one believes that the escape of more than 1,000 prisoners from the prisons of Abu Ghraib and Taji, two highly secure prisons, happened without [the presence of a hidden plot] behind their escape.”
Regarding the sources of the FSA’s weapons, he said that there are a number of sources that deal directly with the FSA leadership. There are Arab brothers, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, whose positions are clear in this respect. He pointed out that the training of FSA fighters is happening in the liberated areas of the Houran plain in the south and the Idlib countryside in the north.
He explained that the FSA has killed more than a hundred Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah personnel, and holds about 30 prisoners from these entities. He said: “The Assad regime and its media have portrayed the Qusair battle as very important, while in fact Qusair, which we care about, is a small town surrounded by several villages loyal to the Assad regime. We can recover Qusair and others if we obtain weapons.” He optimistically said, “I think that the next few months will be crucial in the life of the Syrian revolution.”
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