14/08/2012 RUDAW By HEMIN KHOSHNAW – Colonel Riad al-Asaad is the commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The FSA is the main armed opposition group battling regime forces in the ongoing uprising in Syria. In this interview with Rudaw, conducted via telephone, Asaad discusses the current state of the FSA’s attempts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and what can be expected in the aftermath, including his views on the Kurdish issue.
Rudaw: How would you evaluate the defection of the Syrian prime minister and some other ministers from the Syrian regime?
Riad al-Asaad: It is the beginning of the end of this regime and this regime is heading towards collapse. It is proof that key figures of this government will fight against Assad’s regime when they have a chance.
Rudaw: Which towns and cities are currently controlled by the FSA?
Riad al-Asaad: We cannot say that FSA controls certain cities or regions because the Assad regime’s air force has been bombarding the cities very savagely and we cannot fight against aerial attacks. But the regime has lost control in many parts of Syria and this boosts the morale of FSA fighters.
Rudaw: It is said that the Turkmen are creating a special army in Syria with the assistance of Turkey. Are you in touch with that force?
Riad al-Asaad: I have not heard such a thing. This is a false rumor.
Rudaw: How long will the fighting go on in Syria?
“The FSA needs to be armed with various weapons. Once this has been done, the fight will end more quickly.”
Riad al-Asaad: Until the collapse of the regime.
Rudaw: Do you believe the crisis in Syria will be solved through guerilla warfare or through international treaties?
Riad al-Asaad: The FSA needs to be armed with various weapons. Once this has been done, the fight will end more quickly.
Rudaw: Do you believe you can defeat Assad’s regime with your current level of fighting?
Riad al-Asaad: The fight might last a bit longer, but the defeat of the regime has become a reality and even the regime knows it. The snake pits of the regime are collapsing in most cities. Internal security in Syria does not exist anymore. Ninety percent of police headquarters and security bases have either been closed or liberated. The regime is collapsing but it might extend its life a little bit more.
Rudaw: What types of weapons does the FSA have?
Riad al-Asaad: We have light and intermediate weapons, but these weapons do not meet the requirements of the war we are fighting on the ground. We need weapons to defend ourselves against planes, tanks and armed vehicles.
Rudaw: How many fighters are in the FSA?
Riad al-Asaad: Thanks to God, the number of the FSA is increasing day after day. Today, we have more than 100,000 fighters and they are everywhere in Syria. They are fighting tooth and nail in the streets against the regime. This is an indication that the number of FSA fighters is increasing.
Rudaw: Are civilians participating in the FSA?
Riad al-Asaad: Since the formation of the FSA, we have asked all freedom-seekers to join the lines of the FSA so that we can prevent the emergence of saboteurs and insecurities. We wanted the FSA to be the ultimate commander. Today, all Syrians are looking at the FSA as a national army and support it. The FSA is preventative force that will stop the emergence of thugs and bandits in Syria.
“The Syrian community can tolerate neither al-Qaeda nor other radical groups.”
Rudaw: Will the decisive war be in Damascus or Latakia?
Riad al-Asaad: We believe it will be in Damascus. Once Damascus falls, the regime will collapse.
Rudaw: It is said that the FSA is kidnapping Kurds around Aleppo and setting them free for money?
Rudaw: This has never happened and is false. There are many rumors circulating intended to start a fight between Kurds and Arabs. There might be some separate incidents of arresting soldiers who supported Assad’s regime, but these incidents are carried out by certain individuals — not only against Kurds, but against Sunni Arabs as well. Some Sunni officers were arrested and asked to join the FSA and then were set free after a short time. The FSA has never issued orders to arrest Syrians.
Rudaw: It is said that certain individuals among the FSA have inclinations towards al-Qaeda.
Riad al-Asaad: All Syrians reject radical ideologies. The Syrian community can tolerate neither al-Qaeda nor other radical groups. We are Muslims and Islam is the religion of love, mercy and coexistence.
Rudaw: What will be the fate of the 48 Iranian prisoners?
Riad al-Asaad: They are being interrogated. After investigations, the findings will be publicized. We will make the necessary decision in this regard by either setting them free or exchanging them with our own prisoners in Syrian prisons.
Rudaw: When the Syrian regime withdrew its forces from some Kurdish regions, did you think the presence of the FSA was necessary there?
Riad al-Asaad: In Syria, there are no Kurdish or Sunni regions. It is all Syrian land. We find it necessary to be present in all regions of Syria. Regardless of ethnic and sectarian orientations, we are all Syrians and need to put our hands together with our brothers the Syrian Kurds, Christians and Alawites, and liberate our country.
Rudaw: Do you have contact with the armed groups People’s Protection Committees (YPG) and Democratic Union Party (PYD)?
Riad al-Asaad: We have contacts with some of our Kurdish brothers and are trying to collaborate to create a joint military body in the Kurdish areas under the command of the FSA.
Rudaw: Who are these people or parties?
“In Syria, there are no Kurdish or Sunni regions. It is all Syrian land.”
Riad al-Asaad: They are many independent parties and individuals. We sent some aid to our Kurdish brothers a while ago in order to form this battalion. We have sent some officers on a special mission in Hasakah and Qamishlo in order to form this battalion of the FSA and work together.
Rudaw: A while ago, you stated that after liberating Damascus, you would head towards the Kurdish regions. What did you mean by that?
Riad al-Asaad: Why would you say something that I have not said? I did not say that we would go to the Kurdish regions. This is not true. We consider the Kurdish regions to be Syrian territories. The Kurds are our brothers and they are Syrians. They have the same rights and duties as we do. We would have no objections if the newly elected leader of Syria was a Kurd. We need to cooperate with each other in order to create a free and democratic country.
Rudaw: What are your suggestions for solving the Kurdish issue in Syria?
Riad al-Asaad: This will be discussed after the Syrian regime is defeated. Syria will decide.
Rudaw: Political observers say that, after the collapse of the Assad regime, Syria cannot be ruled from the center and that the Alawites will form their own federal region and this will become a reality in the new Syria.
Riad al-Asaad: We will not allow the formation of federal regions in Syria. The Alawites will not form a federal region and they do not have the power to do so. Syria is for all and we will not give up even one inch of Syrian land.