ISTANBUL: Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba said that the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) represented a serious threat to the entire Arab region and called on the international community to provide the opposition with weapons.
In a sit-down interview with The Daily Star in the Turkish city of Istanbul, Jarba stressed that the SNC’s position on ISIS “has been clear since day one: This is a tool being used by the Iranians and the Syrian regime, and it does not hesitate to murder, slaughter, and terrorize.”
On Hezbollah’s involvement in the fighting alongside Assad, the SNC president said there were no reports of Hezbollah retreating from Syria to fight in Iraq.
He also said Hezbollah has not confronted ISIS in Syria, arguing this ran counter to the party’s justification for entering the Syrian battlefield – that is, to face jihadist groups.
“They [Hezbollah fighters] have resorted to killing our women, children, and elderly, and they have committed massacres, and we will never forgive them for this,” Jarba said.
“ISIS’ logic is no different from Hezbollah’s, both groups are security tools that carry out Iran’s orders to fragment the region and send rigged cars and suicide bombers, aimed at inflicting harm on all of Lebanon, and we condemn this barbarism,” he said.
According to Jarba, ISIS has attempted to control opposition-held areas since the early years of the crisis, and the SNC’s pleas to contain the jihadist group went unheeded until recently, only as a result of its gains in Iraq.
Jarba explained that it was Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s rule which led to rampant corruption and sectarian oppression in the country.
“Iraq today is not a nation, but a group of sectarian and racist militias,” Jarba told The Daily Star, adding that ISIS was taking advantage of Sunni anger as a result of American occupation, marginalization and injustice.
“The Iraqi resistance, which is a mix of the Iraqi army from the days of [former Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein and a large number of clans and tribes, led to the uprising against Maliki, then ISIS came into the picture and invested in the cause and [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi was announced ‘caliph,’ mirroring exactly what happened in Syria,” he said.
“But according to my confidence in the genuine people of Iraq, the situation in the country will change over the next month or two in the favor of the Iraqi nationalists and not ISIS,” he said.
He expressed shock at the Iraqi government forces’ inability to defend their country and said that the Syrian opposition, on the other hand, has faced ISIS and will keep fighting, despite running low on resources. Commenting on the international community’s stances toward the conflict, Jarba praised Saudi Arabia’s position, which he said has never wavered.He noted U.S. hesitance to provide military support, and called on all concerned states to keep their promises and provide weapons to the FSA in order to allow for advances on the ground, or risk an ISIS takeover of the region.
Referring to his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, which took place last week, Jarba said the U.S. was discouraged at the prospect of intervening militarily in the Middle East. The opposition has been trying to allay the powerful nation’s concerns by explaining that it was only looking for weapons and not a direct intervention.
Washington unveiled late last month plans to boost Syria’s opposition with $500 million in arms and training.
“It is clear that the Americans have a real fear of what’s going on in Iraq, and this was a big point of discussion with Kerry, especially since fears spawn from the possibility of chaos moving from Syria toward the U.S.,” he said.
On meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Jarba said the meeting was “long” and “did not bear tangible results.”
“The Russians remain stubborn despite us having explained our view at length,” he said.
“I think that their stubbornness with respect to their stances on the Syrian crisis is linked to their interest in sharing global power with the United States, and therefore they are not clinging to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad’s regime as much as they are defending their international presence,” he said.
He also said the Russians have maintained ties with the regime since the beginning of the crisis, unlike Iran, which did not send its fighters to Syria.
Jarba explained the situation on the ground in Syria as “hit and run” with the regime.
“The regime takes control of a geographic area and then we resort to freeing it,” he said.
“But we do not have the ability to take total control due to our lack of arms, therefore often our brigades retreat from towns and cities for tactical purposes while the regime’s allies bestow aid and support, and our allies often only provide moral support,” he said.
The situation in Homs continues to be tricky, Jarba said, as a result of “Iranian intervention and Assad’s regime trying to openly impose a system of fixed points for Shiite militias.”
Meanwhile, while media reports point to Assad’s victory in the north, Jarba said the regime was currently trying to take control of Aleppo and its suburbs, but failed to do so even after striking the area with barrel bombs.
Speaking about the living conditions of the Syrian people, Jarba said they were “miserable” and that ISIS was expanding while the FSA was facing “shortages on all levels.”
He said FSA brigades were overstretched, fighting a dual battle with the regime on one hand, and ISIS on the other.
Jarba also point out that the SNC did not acknowledge Assad’s re-election.
“For us, nothing changed, and his legitimacy was stepped on by the children of Deraa and the Syrian people over the last two and a half years, and therefore we do not recognize the [election] orchestrated by the regime to justify his existence,” he said.
The Syrian president was re-elected for a third term last month, winning approximately 88 percent of votes.
Jarba also said there were no upcoming discussions with Assad’s government, following the failed Geneva I and Geneva II conventions.
“The horizon is bleak for dealing with the Syrian crisis and we have no choice but to fight,” he said.
Jarba said the Coalition’s current focus was boosting the morale of the Syrian people. He also said the coalition “has plans to address humanitarian issues, specifically for refugees and the wounded.”
Jarba added that he would not stay on as Coalition president, but was “reassured” that his successor would carry on emphasizing the basic precepts of the Syrian revolution.
Speaking on the case of two kidnapped bishops, Jarba confirmed that they were alive and in ISIS custody. Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim were abducted April 23, 2013, by gunmen while returning to the city from the Turkish border.