By Dilxuaz Pehlewi and Behzad Miran
In an exclusive interview with Rudaw, the director of the Syrian state media expressed his country’s readiness to support the Kurdistan Region against the Islamist State (IS/ISIS) armies. Minister Omran al-Zoubi also revealed that Syrian government forces are battling the IS gunmen side-by-side with the Peoples Protection Units (YPG) in the Kurdish-controlled areas of the country. The minister called on the international community to unite against IS in the region, directly accusing Turkey and Saudi Arabia of funding the extremist factions. Here is an edited transcript of the interview:
Rudaw: How is it that you have had no clear position so far about the jihadist attacks in Iraq?
Omran al-Zoubi: Syria is at a great war against terror. This is a war against many terrorist groups, and in particular against the IS, the al-Nusra Front, the Islamic Front and some other extremist groups. Syria has been condemning the IS attacks and will continue to do so in the future. This is a genuine Syrian policy to confront terrorism. Syria condemns the terrorist attacks on Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. And we condemn the atrocities conducted by the IS militants against our brethren in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.
Rudaw: At the moment the guerrillas of the YPG are battling IS militants. Are there any connections between your government and the YPG?
Omran al-Zoubi: I think it was about time for everyone to confront terror, but unfortunately some people had doubts about the nature of Syrian confrontation (against terrorism). I think now is the time to rally regional and international efforts against terror because it can occur in any country, it does not have any moral or religious framework. They are aggressive against Muslims and non-Muslims and all nations in the region alike. These terrorist organizations destroy the infrastructure of countries and steal their wealth. In the end, I think it’s the responsibility of all nations and governments in the region -- which have had no connection to these terror groups -- to come together and defend their history, existence, civilization and freedom against these groups.
Rudaw: Where is the Syrian government at the moment in its war against IS, and do you think the war will be widened?
Omran al-Zoubi: This war, I think, will be extended and broadened. It will reach every capital in the world. But are you aware about what happened to Syria as a result of the complicated conditions and under the pretext of the Arab Spring and the like? You also witnessed the support of the Gulf nations, with Turkey, providing for these terror groups. You witnessed how terrorists from all over the world joined the fight here in Syria. Now, what happened to the region is exactly what Syria had long been warning everybody of. Syria is still at war with terror in all ways possible, including military, intelligence, social, financial and cultural. We fight terror through uniting people and through the media, because we have to acknowledge that there is a media war going on, too. There are some media outlets and social media pages that report about attacks on Iraq and Kurdistan and Erbil and depict it as revolution and a just war. We have to put a stop to all this. Neither we in Syria nor our brethren in Iraq and Erbil or elsewhere in Beirut and Amman, are able to confront terror single-handedly. No one can confront terror alone. There must be cooperation, genuine cooperation. We have to share intelligence and knowledge. We should also support each other financially, as thousands of families both in Syria and Iraq have been displaced. None of this is possible without our commitment to cooperation.
Rudaw: YPG is very much at war in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). Do you have any troops there or do you have any cooperation (with the YPG)?
Omran al-Zoubi: Our Syrian Kurdish brethren in Jazira (Cezire) are part of our nation. It’s the duty of all nations -- Kurds and Arabs alike -- to confront terror. They have the duty of protecting the nation, our dignity and people’s properties. Side by side with the Syrian army, they are doing their part. They are defending their country, their dignity, faith and civilized culture. This is why I insist that confronting terror is not something one could do alone, but should be conducted together. Every democratic force should confront the terror, because terror destroys indiscriminately. This is not a war against one faith or one part of the society,it’s an assault against the entire civilized community of the region.
Rudaw: How do you see the IS advance in Iraq? They regard Syria and Iraq as their “state”?
Omran al-Zoubi: We strongly condemn it. We also condemn the attacks on the Kurdistan Region. We condemn the atrocities being conducted there. Syria is confronting them (the terrorists) from Aleppo to Damascus and in many other places. We think of IS as a real threat to life, faith, stability of the region and the world.
Rudaw: The YPG are also at war in Hasakah area. Do you have any cooperation there?
Omran al-Zoubi: Some areas of Syria have been particularly attacked. But the Syrian warplanes and different national forces, including the YPG, are confronting them shoulder-to-shoulder. Indeed, in some areas there might be more pressure on a particular force, but even in Der Zour, which is part of the Jazira area, there is heavy resistance. It would not be wise to talk about every military action in the media, but I confidently can say that IS cannot impose its command in any part of Syria or stay there, because our Syrian troops chase them away. And every other national force does the same thing and would not let IS have momentum. It’s a matter of time, really. But I’m not talking about the neighboring countries which should take part in the effort against IS: We all know what the jihadist militants are doing along the Turkish border. These terror organizations have their bases and flags inside Turkey. We urge the Turkish government to take its responsibility. Turkey should refrain from collaborating with the terrorists. Turkey is with the terrorists who attack Syria and Damascus. We have a line of documents and confessions that prove Turkey’s involvement. Saudi Arabia and Qatar should also refrain from aiding these organizations. These terrorists are trained in Jordan, are supported financially by the Saudis and Qataris and use Turkish borders to receive shipments of guns and logistics through Turkish companies and banks. These (claims) are backed by Russian intelligence. We have to be aware of what happens on the ground.
Rudaw: The Syrian opposition criticizes President Obama for acting fast in defense of the Kurdistan Region, but not defending the opposition groups against Damascus.
Omran al-Zoubi: We need to be frank now more than ever. We all know about the connections the Syrian Opposition enjoys abroad in Qatar and Istanbul. The Syrian Opposition has become an apron for the al-Nusra Front, which is a terrorist group. Why are they supporting this group? Both IS and al-Nusra have common beliefs and grounds and are supported by the same side. This is why the Syrian Opposition is a non-nationalist front and is a failure. It shows their connection with terror groups. No one can hide their true identity for long. We have to be clear and identify problems. At the moment IS and other organizations have benefited from the West turning a blind eye. They have also been benefited by the financial support they are receiving from the Arab nations. We have shown evidence of that in the past and no one has paid attention. And now when things become clearer, the international community is complaining and says IS is a threat! We could have prevented this a year ago. But the imperialist powers do not pay so much attention to the spilled blood of our nations, regardless whether the lost lives belong to Muslims, Christians or Kurds. They don’t care about whose women are being raped, or whose women are being sold. They just think about their financial gains and what profits this could bring with it for the Americans and Europeans.
Rudaw: If the Kurdistan Region asks for your support against the IS, will you step in?
Omran al-Zoubi: I honestly want to tell you, the Syrian government is ready principally for any kind of support to defeat the IS on the condition that the countries that supported IS are not part of the alliance. But also Syria should be supported against the IS. This is a protracted and hard resistance. We have to support our people economically. Hundreds of thousands of people are on the mountains. Most of them are unreachable. We can’t provide them with food or water. This is a human tragedy. We have to confront IS on the principles of our common culture and civilization. This isn’t just a military issue, indeed.
Rudaw: Kinda Shamat, a Syrian minister, says they organized a refugee camp in Hasakah province to receive displaced Yezidis from Shingal, but the YPG says their forces are responsible. Who opened the camp?
Omran al-Zoubi: More than 1,000 families have arrived in Syria from that area and are treated like the Syrian families. They have all left their homes as a result of the terror attacks. Syria has always regarded its neighbors as friends, especially in regard to the Iraqi nation and our brethren in the Kurdistan Region. We act according to our beliefs. Syria is hospitable to everyone and knows how to act on such humane issues. We embraced Lebanese refugees in the past along with Kuwaiti and Iraqi refugees. Palestinian immigrants have been here since the 1940s. This is the way the Syrian nation acts and treats other nations and we remain this way because this is part of our national identity.
Rudaw: What is your position regarding the PYD local administrations (cantons) in Rojava?
Omran al-Zoubi: We have to be clear on this point, too. The Arab Republic of Syria maintains its territorial integrity and national sovereignty. Cantons are unacceptable in Syria as such. Any political and constitutional development, any political action, must take place within the formal and governmental framework. Considering all other details, when a group wants to claim independence through establishing a canton or impose a law of its own, or wants to sideline the government, of course it’s unacceptable. But speaking about this subject will alter the direction of our discussion here. The timing is not right for such discussions and actions. Our issue is the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The Syrian official position on a national scale is clear and has not changed.