I conducted the interview in the SNC HQ in Istanbul last October, it is interesting how Saida’s criticism of the West’s inaction and lack of leadership from Obama resonates today, only more so.
His inference that the West’s inaction would lead to greater Jihadist involvement has also materialized.
Following the interview I continued my journey from Istanbul on to the borderlands of the Turkish/ Syrian border.
Antakya and Reyhanli were my bases and jumping off points into Syria itself.
What was striking was the disconnect between the SNC in Istanbul and activists and fighters on the ground.
Many had not even heard of the SNC more likely they were plugged in to the local command of whichever Katiba (Independent Battalion) was active in there section.
There were increasing numbers of foreign Jihadis some veterans and other wannabes who were evident especially around the bus station area of Antakya.
The transient aspect of the bus station with its high number of daily departures and arrivals and many cheap hotels afforded great cover for the Jihadi hopefuls wishing to link up with agents.
The agents could sell them arms and hook them up with training battalions over the border.
A Swiss colleague tacked down one such hopeful a French national of South Korean descent who had become estranged from his adoptive French parents.
He had become radicalized whist serving time for petty crimes in prison.
Converting to radical Islam gave him a revived if not distorted sense of purpose and identity.
He managed at his own expense to acquire a military weapon and join up with a Jihadi group operating in the Aleppo countryside.
He was typical of the ragtag bunch of miscreants heading for Syria.
Now in lieu of any meaningful screening and interdiction from the Turkish police and intelligence services, he has swelled the ranks of Islamic brigades to the point they are now the dominant forces confronting Assad’s Armies.
The Islamic brigades have been shamelessly bankrolled by Qatari and Saudi princes using charities and NGOs to thinly disguise their financial operations in support of the Jihadi rebels.
President of the Syrian National Council
Abdul Basset Siada Interview 22/10/2012
“Obama says he can but he won’t! Says Dr Abdul Basset Siada with ironic bitterness in response to my question “What can the West do for the Syrian opposition and the millions of Syrians suffering a second winter of civil war.” as rebels and Assad’s forces continue to battle over much of the country.
Dr Saida a Syrian Kurd strikes an avuncular figure as he continues “The West talks about taking care of the environment and animals that should not be tortured or suffer unduly.
“This regime is killing 150 people a day with millions enduring distress, with nearly 4 million refugees inside Syria and a further 500,000 refugees abroad.
“Cities are destroyed the war threatens the stability of the whole region and the West is satisfying itself with shy expressions and statements to satisfy public opinion.”
So what does he want from the Western world?
He states emphatically “A No Fly Zone implemented with force…… because on the ground the regime has no power.
“Alternately the West must support the FSA with arms to face aircraft and tanks.
If we get these we will be able to decrease the suffering of civilians in the liberated areas.”
I remind Dr Saida that with the Russians backing its long time client state and jealously guarding its only warm water base at Tartous unilateral action by the West is not so straight forward.
He replies dismissively “The West always says this, putting it on the shoulders of the Russians, it is a false pretext.
“There are a lot of examples where the West has interfered In Yugoslavia Iraq Kosovo Libya. and the Russians accepted it.”
The lack of a belligerent Russian response in the context of those interventions is lost on a leader who knows the FSA will struggle to deliver the knockout blow without some form of Western material intervention.
For all but one of those conflicts a weakened Russia was virtually impotent on the world stage under the increasingly shambolic leadership of President Yeltsin.
A newly self assured Russia under Putin’s management is surely a different proposition.
Given the stalemate between Assad’s forces and the FSA would the SNC be willing to call a halt to hostilities and settle for a compromise perhaps partition between FSA and Assad controlled areas?
Again this draws an emphatic response “A half revolution is suicide! Adding: We are in the revolution and we are going to continue! “A lot of villages and towns have been wholly destroyed and nobody is doing anything about this. “
“We will not go back on the revolution we will continue with the goals of the revolution it would be treason of the revolution if we agree to compromise.
“The Regime has destroyed and killed so much it has too much blood on its hands we are not going to reward them with a deal.”
After nearly two years of protest and hard fighting why has the regime been able to survive?
Is it perhaps that the majority of Syrians do not see the SNC as a credible alternative?
“The regime has already fallen, 60 percent of the land is outside Assad’s control and the rest is only under his control under arms.
“If Iran and Russia where not supporting him economically, with political support and military advice he would not have lasted this long.”
Dr Saida conceded that the SNC has been subject to criticism.
“Several political and community groups within Syria have levelled criticism at the SNC
“We are devastated at the failure of the SNC to deliver liberation so far.
But we are criticised because the Syrian people now look on the SNC as their government not as opposition.”
“The international response needs to be brought up to speed to say the SNC is not unified is incorrect If we are not unified would that be an excuse to allow the killing on such a scale?
What of the increasing reports of Jihadist contribution to the military struggle and those who characterise the civil war as merely a power struggle between the Sunni and Allawites.
Dr Saida said: “The regime always likes people to see that what is happening is sectarian, the reality is different and the Jihadist’s involvement is a result not a cause of the killing.”
“When the regime continues to kill brutally and the international community is silent whether we like it or not it is bound to attract Jihadis.
“The explosion in Lebanon that killed the Intelligence chief (Wissam al-Hassan) there is an example of the instability that will affect the area if the regime is allowed to continue.”
There was a hopeful message of conciliation to the Allawites and assurance to the Syria’s 2 million Christians who have largely remained on the sidelines when I asked about their future.
Dr Saida replied: “.All minorities including Christian and Allawites are an important part of Syria their place in the nation is assured not as a gift, not as a reward, but as a duty to the Syrian National Project.
“We don’t do this just to please the West although we do want good relations with the West.
“What is happening is a revolution of all the components of Syria including the minorities who are also suffering and are also with the revolution.”
Their future is with is with the National Project that respects human rights and privacy of individuals.”
The future was not so bright for President Assad and his family though, Dr Saida was adamant Assad had to go before any dialogue could begin.
“In the beginning we wanted him to partake in the reform though he only responded with killing.
“He is the obstacle to reform Assad and his corrupt family are a cancer inside the Syrian nation that if it continues its course could cause the dismemberment of the body of Syria.
What of his desired fate? “He and his family should go to court to be tried.”
Tried by who the Syrians or Internationally? “It does not matter in a Syrian or International court because the crimes he and his regime have committed are war crimes. (So can be tried in either court)
Dr Saida saved his final missive for the West and its inaction stating: “To find excuses is to accept the continuation of a criminal regime, this is for me a contradiction of supposed Western values that I cannot understand.”Ends.