Civilians to run new Syria: Rebel General

December 12, 2012 - 3:58:43 am

BEIRUT: Syria’s rebel generals pledge not to seek power for themselves but will support a civilian transitional government if they depose President Bashar Al Assad, the head of a newly established military command said.

“The military people do not want to seize power after Assad is gone,” Brigadier Selim Idris said by telephone on Tuesday, three days after he was appointed to lead the new organisation.

“We just want to form a national army and we will not intervene in politics,” said Idris, who defected from Assad’s forces last year. He was speaking on the eve of a gathering in Morocco of Assad’s Syrian and international adversaries.

Assad inherited the presidency from his father, a former air force commander, and ending decades of rule by such army-backed autocrats has been a central demand of the Syrian opposition, as it has been in other uprisings across the Arab world.

Underlining his commitment to civilian control, Idris said that while the rebel forces were anxious to obtain new weaponry, particularly anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, they were ready to wait until the rebels’ newly reshaped political leadership was ready to oversee international arms procurement.

“We are looking to have a Syrian government that has the legitimacy that brings the right to buy weapons,” he said. A civilian defence minister would handle purchases in due course.

As well as battling Assad, the tasks facing the new military body include coordinating fractured rebel groups and overseeing arms movements which some rebels say are out of control.

The new rebel command brings together most existing rebel entities including several brigades which formed an Islamist front two months ago and “provincial military councils” which operated under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army, a group largely run by officers who had defected from Assad’s forces.

Idris said he would extend a hand to all officers, notably FSA commanders based abroad, especially among refugees in camps in Turkey. He would encourage them to join the fight. 

Referring to FSA founder Riad Al Asaad and Mustafa Al Sheikh, both left out of the new, Islamist-dominated body, he said: “In the camps, there are large numbers of officers. We need to give them tasks and get them onto the battlefield.  “As for those two dear friends ... I will do everything possible to ensure they have roles among their brothers.”

Asaad and Sheikh have been criticised for choosing to stay in Turkey while rebel fighters were engaged in fierce battles in Syria. Idris’s new command will base itself in rebel-held territory inside Syria, overseeing the military operations. 

“The first step now is to have a strategic plan for military operations to topple Assad,” Idris said, speaking shortly before he was due to start a series of meetings across the region.