Wednesday 22 February 2012

Syria: A behind-the-scenes account

Russia's Syria-bound MV Chariot off the coast of Limassol last month (photo from

Brig. Gen. Fayez Qaddour Omar, head of the Military Pilot School in Aleppo, defected to Turkey last week and has been staying there since.
The Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat was able to catch up with him for an exclusive interview published today and datelined Antakya, seat of Hatay province in southeast Turkey, close to the border with Syria.
The interview sheds light on the current state of play in Syria.
The Questions and Answers in full:
When did you decide to defect?
The moment tanks were used against civilians in Deraa and Homs. First, I thought I could serve the revolution by staying put. But I went ahead and defected at the stage where I had to give orders to open fire against my people. Many officers are in a similar position.
In what state is the army now?
It’s in a miserable state. Every commander is now watched over by three or four security chaperons loyal to the regime. A number of Alawite officers who were about to desert held back because of such concerns. You now find security minders in all military formations – so much so that there is a shortage of them to suppress protesters. Every military detachment comprises security minders. Each and every military operation in any area is led either by a military security officer or by an air force security officer.
The Syrian army says it is fighting armed gangs, not civilians…
I defy the top most intelligence agency anywhere in the world to prove there are armed gangs. No weapons have been smuggled into Syria save for Kalashnikovs… Some flawed weapons were smuggled to the opposition side by way of Hezbollah, such as faulty rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) that don’t fire or faulty ammunition packed with TNT to hurt the user.
The opposition had no weapons at all throughout the first five months of the uprising. But the regime forced them to take up arms when it started preparing for an empire along the coastline. The regime is scorching Homs to then declare it the statelet’s capital. Homs is on its deathbed.
You were based in Aleppo. Why, in your opinion, has it not joined the uprising yet?
For two reasons: One, its general public is culturally blighted and ignorant.  It has been brainwashed too. And 90 percent of Aleppians are not politicized while the remaining 10 percent are unreliable elitists. The second reason is the local businesses cashing in on the situation. In Aleppo, the regime permitted the impermissible.
But Aleppians now feel violence knocking at their door. I expect a drastic change in Aleppo in the days or weeks to come. But the Aleppo suburbs have been on fire since Day One, except that the media has overlooked them.
What’s your reading of the security situation and the regime’s state?
There are massacres still unknown to the outside world. I am convinced that about 2,000 people were killed in Homs during its first intifada. Garbage trucks spent four days collecting bodies while the Homs fire brigade was splashing the streets. Those responsible for the mass killing were later liquidated in a bloody purge. Twenty people were killed in the funeral for the 190 others massacred in Tal el-Nasr.
What about the state of the regime?
I noticed in the course of my monthly meetings with senior officers that the regime is bent on the security option. It does not admit the existence of civil unrest until this day. It says the (conspiracy) targets the whole regime, not only Bashar al-Assad.
How does the regime view international developments so far?
Every international development has the regime on its nerves. It shudders when the United States calls on Assad to stand down. But it takes heart when the United States rules out military intervention. One negative statement from the United States shortens the regime’s life by a month.
I am convinced the regime is on its last leg. I realized this after reading circulars it sends around. The state of the army is precarious. It falls short at times of food supplies. Some soldiers hold citizens at checkpoints they are manning to deter attack.
What did you mean by “circulars”?
I know members of the People’s Assembly (parliament) who are under house arrest. They can’t move from place to another without security authorization. Travel overseas was banned some six weeks ago. A recent circular carrying 70 directives banned almost everything without security authorization, including visits to embassies.
What about the army’s condition on the ground?
As I said, the regime stands on its last leg. It is prepared to kill 20 million Syrian to survive. Its military forces are deployed everywhere across the country. Not a single military unity has been spared deployment, including university training units. Officers and soldiers from one university training camp were executed for refusing orders to crack down on demonstrators. The Civil Defense units and Popular Army units have been called up as well.
The regime is at the same time amassing troops close to the (Mediterranean) coast. I am almost certain it is inclined to declare a sectarian state. I wouldn’t want to identify its nature now.
Was there any such hint at top brass meetings?
Only in a desultory way, but as a military commander I am familiar with nuances.
Are there Salafists fighting alongside the Syrian Free Army?
Anyone saying Salafists are fighting alongside the Syrian Free Army is wrong. Fighting under the Syrian Free Army banner are the defectors and some citizens.
…And al-Qaeda operatives as well?
God forbid. The man responsible for the al-Qaeda File in Syria is Maj. Gen. Adib Nimr Salameh who, since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, has been in charge of moving the operatives back and forth between Iraq and Syria.
Is it true the army is short of ammunition?
The regime would have been in crisis, if it were not for the (mid-January) delivery of a load of ammunition by a Russian ship (i.e. the Chariot).
Are there Russian and Iranian advisors in Syria?
Both are there. The Russians have arms contracts with Syria worth billions of dollars. Fifty Iranian advisors are at the Jandar power plant, which only requires one. There are Iranians in Aleppo and in some chiefly Shiite villages north of city. They’ve even shaved their beards for disguise. Some have also come in via Lebanon.
Do they play any active role in the events?
Absolutely -- as torturers and suppliers of torture implements (to the regime).
How did you flee Syria?
The flight involved a three-day journey fraught with danger. I wanted to leave through Lebanon except that Hezbollah rules Lebanon, where many deserters were arrested and then handed over to the regime.
What about your family?
I was able to secure their safe exit from Syria before I left.
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