FSA Military Leader Mustafa Sheikh: We Will Not Engage in Civil War

11/11/2012 04:32:00RUDAW EXCLUSIVE

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Brigadier Mustafa Sheikh is the head of the military council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Photo: elaph.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region -- Brigadier Mustafa Sheikh is the head of the military council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Sheikh was one of the most significant defectors from the Syrian Army, leaving after nearly four decades of service for the regime. In this interview with Rudaw, he speaks about the guiding principles of the FSA, including the importance of human rights, his hopes for the new opposition council and what role he envisions for the Kurds in a new Syria.

Rudaw: How does the FSA view Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)?

Mustafa Sheikh: The KRG has had a positive position on the Syrian revolution and we are very satisfied with their stance on the issues. However, the Iraqi government, like Iran, has taken a hostile position against the Syrian people. Unfortunately [Iraqi Prime Minister] Nuri al-Maliki has placed his regional interests over the life and blood of the Syrian people.

Rudaw: Do you have any evidence that Maliki supports Syria as Iran does?

Mustafa Sheikh: Its crystal clear that Maliki supports Syria. Does that really need evidence? I believe no proof is needed.

Its crystal clear that Maliki supports Syria. Does that really need evidence?

Rudaw: many people criticize the FSA and say that it is an army divided along ethnic lines. What do you say?

Mustafa Sheikh: Look, with the support of God, I will be honest with you and all the other media outlets. What has been started in Syria is a revolution for freedom. Therefore, we have to be honest and talk about things like they really are.

The Syrian revolution, like all the other revolutions in the world, will have some mistakes. This is mostly caused by suppression which pushes people to violence. Actions sometimes push people to irresponsible reactions. But the leadership of the FSA will never allow any violation of human rights, because that leaves a major negative impact on national interests.

Therefore, what is being said about ethnic problems in the FSA is a baseless accusation and part of a campaign to vilify the Syrian opposition -- a campaign that is being carried out by the Syrian Secret Service. They have done what they can to distort the reputation of our revolution.

But if we take a look at this revolution, we see that it has taken a modern path. We have divided the FSA into five fronts and all these fronts or, if you like, groups -- have to abide by human rights principles. That is because our whole fight is for our rights. We have issued serious instructions to everyone in the revolution, warning them that if they violate human rights or play with ethnic issues, they will face serious consequences. These acts would be considered treason.

I understand this is a revolution, and in every revolution mistakes are inevitable. We are not angels. We have tried to at least establish a path and follow that path. Whoever carries a weapon has to fight for a national cause, not for one particular group or for a particular agenda.

We sense that today there are international attempts to create a strong and diverse opposition to replace the [Syrian] National Council (SNC). That is because the National Council has failed in this regard in the past. Today, we have a new opposition and we have a disciplined army. Our fighters have to value international laws and universal principles. They have to know that humans have rights and those who are taken as prisoners have rights as well.

Rudaw: Will you cooperate with the new council that is suggested by the United States?

I truly hope that all the Kurdish problems are solved. This is a matter of justice.

Mustafa Sheikh: We would like to. God willing we will have that cooperation. That is our hope. An army without political leadership will not work and politics without an army will not be very useful either.

Rudaw: Is there cooperation between your army and the Kurdish political parties? Are there Kurdish soldiers in your army units?

Mustafa Sheikh: Yes, there are and that makes us happy. And believe me I am not saying this just to promote the FSA. We have Kurdish soldiers and that is normal. Not having Kurdish soldiers would be abnormal. We are brothers and we have been living together for thousands of years the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most pious of you" [citing Quran (49:13)].

Why should we view social groups in this [unfriendly] manner? We have to realize that differences in society are something that God put in place. Can we stand against this will of God? God has created humans with differences. This very difference has led to civilizations.

Rudaw: As an opposition rebel leader, can you reassure the Kurds? What message do you have for the Kurds?

Mustafa Sheikh: I have lived with Kurds. I have lived in an area where Kurds and Arabs have lived together for thousands of years. They have been befriending each other. They have interethnic marriages. I truly hope that all the Kurdish problems are solved. This is a matter of justice. If the issue of Kurds is not solved in the future in a just way, that will be a disaster. The future of Syria will not be good if the Kurds are not satisfied fully.

We are hoping for the highest level of cooperation between with the Kurdish parties in order to preserve our unity and fraternity and our history which is full of cooperation. We want to have the Kurds play a more active role and in the future have all positions filled by capable persons. We want everyone to enjoy their rights in the future. This is a legitimate right and the divine religions have called for it.