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West would rather accept known ‘devil Assad’ than possible ‘jihadists regime’

Published time: January 18, 2014 00:34
Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they run for cover in Daraya, near Damascus January 15, 2014. (Reuters / Hussam Zeen)

The increase of Jihadist forces in Syria has become a major concern for the Western powers, who are now contemplating it might be better if President Assad stays, rather than have extremists take control of Syria, political analyst Chris Bambery told RT.

RT: Why is the Syrian opposition stalling the decision on attending these talks?

Chris Bambery: Well, the truth is, the Syrian National Council do not represent those people now fighting inside Syria against the Assad government. Increasingly they are looking towards al-Qaeda linked groups who are the spearhead of that military campaign. And the Syrian National Council cannot really speak now for the opposition in total. And we have the American Secretary of State John Kerry desperately pleading with them to come to Geneva. But at the same time, many of those people engaged in the fighting who are radicalizing as a consequence of all this and are looking towards Jihadi type groups reject any role for the Geneva talks, they do not want to go to Geneva.

So the Syrian National Council is caught between their backers in the United States and the people they claim to represent in Syria: the opposition who is increasingly becoming disenchanted from that process. And I think today, the announcement by the Assad regime, the offer of a ceasefire in Aleppo, will put the onus on them as well, not just to go to Geneva, but will they respond to this gesture by declaring a ceasefire and an exchange of prisoners.

So the Syrian National Council is on the back foot and also is increasingly being challenged whether it actually represents the people who are doing the fighting and killing inside Syria. And of course the answer is no.

RT: What we see is just the tip of the iceberg; a lot of it is under water. But speaking of the conference that ahead of us in just only a few days, if the opposition refuses to participate, if it doesn’t come to the conference, then is there any real point to holding peace talks?

CB: I think there is a point of holding talks. I think we should be encouraging talks at any level. But think the truth is as well, it has been widely recognized that inside the West and inside the United States, there is growing anxiety over what is happening in the rebel-held areas of Syria and the growth of al-Qaeda linked groups. And they are becoming more and more concerned about this. They look at Libya and the mess created there by the Western intervention, they see the growth of these groups in Syria and indeed in neighboring Iraq.

Smoke rises from buildings after what activists said was shelling from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the besieged area of Homs January 15, 2014.(Reuters / Thaer Al Khalidiya)


And I think it is important to say that for these jihadist groups the conflict in Syria and the conflict in Iraq, they are not separate, they are one conflict and the West is becoming increasingly concerned. In addition today, it was announced there was one Canadian jihadist, one Australian jihadist have been killed fighting for the rebel forces. This again puts a spotlight on a number of people from North America, Australia and Europe, who have traveled to fight inside Syria. The British government claims some 300-400 British jihadists are fighting inside Syria and Western governments are becoming afraid of what will happen when these people return home. The mood is very different from six months ago.

RT: You have just said that the West is getting more and more concerned but to what extent did the support from the West play a part in rebel support and what is happening in the country?

CB: Well the truth is without the intervention from the West, without the Americans in particular, at the end of the day, it is very difficult for the rebels to win.

The Saudis and the Qataris can provide money but they cannot provide the heavy weaponry they need to defeat the Assad regime. The only people who can provide that weaponry are the Americans. The Americans have provided military aid, they are providing training and so on, but have hesitated to provide heavy weapons that the opposition needs and of course reports that weapons they have supplied, the Turks and the Saudi have supplied, have been seized by al-Qaeda linked groups will made them more reluctant to step in.

So what we are seeing here is the retreat from a position six months ago when the Americans wanted to physically attack Syrians with cruise missiles. We were talking about arming the rebels full on. There has been really quite a major retreat from that.

And of course there are people in the security service in the West that are actually talking to the Assad regime about the jihadists. There is open discussion in Washington about perhaps it should be better to keep with the devil, we know Assad rather than the devil we don’t know, these jihadist regimes. It is completely different from six months ago when the Americans, if you like, were gung ho, wanted to topple the Assad regime. Now, they have pulled back.

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