In an exclusive interview with al-Souria Net, Army of Islam commander Zahran Alloush reveals that the major decision-making power in Syria is now in the hands of Iran, explaining that the recent assassination of senior regime officers was carried out on orders from Tehran.
Alloush claims that the Army of Islam and other factions have developed an extensive plan to deal with the post-Assad stage.
The following is the full text of the interview:
Al-Souria Net: A few days ago, the Army of Islam broadcast a video clip showing a military parade of its troops in eastern Ghouta. The video demonstrated your military abilities in a location that is only few kilometers away from the Presidential Palace of Bashar al-Assad. What messages did you want to convey this particular time?
Zahran Alloush: We wanted to say that our forces on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, are trained, organized and operate within an institutional framework. We have forces that can enable us to stand in the face of Assad's regime, so that its troops and its Iranian and Lebanese militias cannot access the areas of Ghouta. The regime must realize that its control over Damascus is not as it used to be in the past; today, just a few kilometers from the Presidential Palace, the Army of Islam forces protect civilians in the besieged areas, and these forces will always face the regime.
SN: Do you suspect that the Army of Islam has succeeded in creating a balance of terror in the capital Damascus, in the sense that you shaped a deterrent force against the regime's escalations?
ZA: Today, the regime is completely convinced that it can not ignore us nor the rest of the factions in Damascus. The regime's repeated attempts to storm Ghouta are still ongoing, but thanks to God we face its forces and cause huge losses among them. We believe that our strong blows to the regime have shaken its image in front of its supporters. For example, when we targeted the security headquarters in the capital, Damascus, regime forces were mobilized, and traffic in the city became partially paralyzed, especially when we announced the curfew. It was clear the regime was embarrassed when we struck its forces, while their only way to respond was by shelling and massacring civilians.
SN: The commander of Ahrar ash-Sham Movement, Abu Jaber ash-Sheikh, posted an image of your meeting with him a few days ago, how is the relationship between you and the Movement?
ZA: There is coordination between the Army of Islam and our brothers in the Islamic Ahrar ash-Sham Movement; we are on the same fronts and fight the same enemy. I would like to point out that our coordination is not only with the Ahrar ash-Sham Movement, it also includes the rest of the factions fighting the regime's forces.
SN: When talking about the fall of the Assad regime, there are fears that the post-Assad stage might be characterized by a sweeping chaos throughout the country. Do you have a plan to control the chaos and preserve Syria’s state institutions?
ZA: Yes, we have applied a plan now in eastern Ghouta. The judiciary has helped us a lot to secure the region and prevent chaos. The situation today in eastern Ghouta is more stable than the situation in Damascus; there are no kidnappings or theft in our region. Because the Army of Islam is on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, our mission as a senior military faction is to maintain security and stability, and our vision for this is not only in Damascus but also in all Syrian areas in coordination with the other factions. Our plan is based on the protection of public facilities and citizen property. We also have a vision of the security procedures that prevent the occurrence of acts that may spread terror and fear among people or damage their properties or lives. The preservation of state institutions is a priority for us, as these institutions are the property of people, and one of the reasons for our fight against the regime is that it demolished these institutions. We now have experience in eastern Ghouta in maintaining the state institutions which we provide protection to, and we will work to provide security and stability to these institutions which will lead the next phase in Syria.
SN: Does the Army of Islam intend to become the nucleus of the Syrian army after the fall of Assad?
ZA: Yes, we have a desire to be part of the Syrian army whose mission should be protecting the country and its citizens. The army should be part of a military establishment that dedicates its capabilities to people, not to kill them as the criminal Bashar Assad did when the Syrian people revolted against him. The next Syrian army needs those who took up arms against the regime when it began to kill and shell civilians with various types of weapons.
SN: Does the Army of Islam have a vision of how to control the spread of arms after the fall of the regime, especially weapons in the hands of civilians?
ZA: Gun control depends on the provision of security first, and security depends on gun control. We have this experience now in eastern Ghouta, where we have established a united police command. An office in this command is dedicated to control the registration, transfer and use of arms. This experience can be passed on to other areas under the control of the Army of Islam, even after the overthrow of the regime.
SN: There are fears that military personnel will rule Syria after the fall of the regime; will the Army of Islam intervene in civilian affairs?
ZA: We are now fighting to protect civilians against the criminality of the regime. The success of any government in any country requires coordinated efforts between civil and military bodies, and the Army of Islam will provide protection and support to civil authorities in order to carry out their tasks in Syria after the fall of the regime. The rebels in the liberated areas have proved their ability to manage civilian affairs through civilian bodies. Civilians themselves manage much of these areas, while military factions provide them with the necessary protection.
SN: There has been analysis and speculation regarding your visit to Turkey. Can you explain to us the reasons behind this visit?
ZA: This visit was to discuss the Syrian issue in many respects, and the meetings are still ongoing. We hope future visits will prove successful.
SN: The issue of Razan Zeitouneh is one of the most sensitive issues related directly to the Army of Islam, as some people accuse the Army of Islam of direct involvement in her disappearance, but at the same time you deny any connection to her. Can you explain this for us?
ZA: Razan Zeitouneh disappeared in an area where the Army of Islam was absent. When Razan Zeitouneh was kidnapped in the city of Douma in November 2013, the Army of Islam was not in the city, and we have witnesses and evidence to support this. No fighters from the Army of Islam were in the city at that point. There were other factions present at that time, and Razan Zeitouneh was kidnapped from a center surrounded by the headquarters of four of these factions.
SN: Some critics talk about the prisons run by the Army of Islam, and say that human rights violations are committed inside them, what is your response to these accusations?
ZA: There are no human rights violations in the prisons of the Army of Islam. We have contributed to the creation of the unified judiciary, and we have agreed with the courts to release as many prisoners as possible. The judiciary is unable to accommodate all the detainees, so we turn the prisoners over to the courts to trial them before their release.
SN: Last month witnessed heavy fighting in the Yarmouk refugee camp between the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and the opposition factions – including the Army of Islam – are you still afraid of ISIS’ presence in the capital and its countryside?
ZA: I suspect that ISIS will not have a foot in Damascus and its countryside because it is an entity based on extremism, which is socially outcast here. The Army of Islam and the rest of the other factions will keep fighting ISIS without mercy. We have already expelled them from al-Qaboun and Barzeh neighborhoods in Damascus. This coincides with our ongoing campaign to detect the remnants of ISIS sleeper cells in eastern Ghouta, and we're making progress in this matter. ISIS has no future in Syria because, as I mentioned, it is an organization based on extremism and blood – its views differ greatly from the Syrian community. The scope of ISIS offenders expands every day, and more and more factions show their willingness to fight it. It is also well known that Syrians were the first to fight ISIS, prior to its expansion.
SN: How is the situation facing the Assad regime today?
ZA: The Assad regime has turned into a real coalition of militias. Iranians are now the real decision-makers in Syria, and the regime's senior officers were assassinated by Iran and its agents in the region. The regime is in its weakest state since the start of the Syrian revolution, and Bashar Assad has become just a commander of militias who are professional in murder, robbery and bloodshed. Assad’s existence is now linked to the existence of these militias which receive painful blows from the rebels on the ground. Without the support of the Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah militias, there would be no Assad regime – but how long will this support continue? The regime’s allies will reach a point where they realize they should give Assad up in order to avoid further losses. This has begun to occur on more than one front.
SN: Will the year 2015 witness the victory of the Syrian revolution?
ZA: Our hope in God is limitless, and there are great signs, God willing.
SN: Do you have a vision of a strategic mechanism to control the Syrian borders after the fall of the regime?
ZA: Yes, this is a priority. We will work in coordination and cooperation with the rest of the factions and neighboring countries to protect the border from turning into a threat to our neighbors, as Bashar Assad's regime did over the last years (even prior to the revolution), where he wanted to convince these countries that their security depends on his regime's security. We all know that during the crisis the regime allowed the extremists to enter Syria, and facilitated their movement.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer