As a US strike on Syria looms, with Washington determined to punish Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad for the alleged use of chemical weapons, Israel Today talks to Dr. Sherkoh Abbas, the leader of the Kurdish National Assembly of Syria, currently residing in the American capital.
With supporters throughout Syria and connections to the Syrian and American authorities, we ask Abbas' view on whether the US attack is going to happen and what will be the consequences.
Justification for war?
Israel Today: US and Western claims of a chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21st seem to many in the region to be suspicious, especially given the timing. Everyone still remembers the American mistakes and seemingly contrived evidence to justify war in Iraq. What makes you think Washington is right this time?
Dr. Sherkoh Abbas: I believe that the US administration has enough intelligence sources on the ground to assess the situation accurately. As far as Iraq is concerned, it is still disputable. Some say there was no nuclear weapon there. Others claim it existed but in limited amounts. There are assumptions that the US was not quick enough because Iraq’s late leader Saddam Hussein managed to move some of his weapons to Syria.
The Assad regime definitely does possess chemical weapons and they have been used previously although on a smaller scale. Having said that, I understand the claims that the gas attack was suspicious. After all, the government forces were winning and it was suicidal for them to use the weapons at the time that the UN inspectors were touring the country investigating a similar case that took place in March. Assad knew that the use of such weapons would trigger an attack against his government and he wouldn’t have wanted to risk his positions.
And yet, it’s important to note that there are different rivalry camps inside Assad’s government. This means that even if Assad himself didn’t order the release of the poisonous gas, it could have been somebody from his own government.
Therefore, it doesn’t really matter who used this weapons. What’s really important is that it is there and the US has to intervene in order to destroy these arsenals and prevent a situation where these weapons fall into the wrong hands. It’s clear that the regime is not capable of controlling these stockpiles.
Fate of Syrian minorities
Israel Today: Do you think that the lives of the minorities (including Kurds, Christians, Alawites, Druze and others) would be any better if the regime is changed?
Abbas: Although I think that the Assad regime has always been bad for minorities, I also believe that what the US is doing right now, that is supporting the Sunni Muslims, is totally wrong. Washington prefers to back countries such as Turkey and Qatar, both of which support the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization deemed as terrorist by many countries.
I believe all ethnic groups and minorities in Syria should be given equal rights. Syria should be divided into federal states where every state would have its own constitution. Such a system could prove valuable for the US because those federal states wouldn’t be strong enough to oppose Washington’s policy. In other words, if Sunni Muslims are marginalized they won’t have enough power and therefore will not be able to stage a war against US interests.
Lessons not learned
Israel Today: Why does Washington still support these types of extremist groups? Didn't they learn the lesson of Afghanistan, where American armed groups like Al Qaeda, only to have those groups turn on the US after the Russians were booted from the country?
Abbas: The US believes that dividing Syria into federal states will make diplomatic maneuvering difficult. It's also about the petro-dollars. Let’s not forget who Washington’s regional allies are. These are the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni majority states. They possess a huge amount of dollars and that’s why they can dictate what they want Syria to look like. These countries don’t want to see the independence of the Kurds or any other minorities and ethnicities. That’s why President Obama is not capable of abandoning this policy of backing political Islam. But this approach is destined to failure because it will only embolden Iran and Syria.
Syrian reaction to attack
Israel Today: What will be President Assad's reaction if (or when) America attacks?
Abbas: President Assad cannot really do much. Washington and Moscow have already reached an agreement on the issue. They agreed that the US will carry out a limited strike against Syria because the US has gone too far and cannot backtrack. Russia and the Syrian government know which sites are going to be bombed and so they are ready for the hit. The Syrian leader doesn’t feel that the attack is going to threaten his rule or overthrow him, that’s why he is calm. Having said that, he already started moving [the terrorist group] Hezbollah in Lebanon only because he wants to change the focus and shift international attention away from Syria.
Prelude to world war?
Israel Today: Does this mounting tension herald regional, or even world war?
Abbas: I think World War III will be avoided this time around. At the same time, the situation could explode if the US, despite giving assurances to Russia, uses this opportunity of a limited strike to topple the Syrian regime. Regional wars are still possible, and they can involve (partially or wholly) such countries as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Israel.
Israel Today: What about the Kurdish people? Does all this mean that the dream of an independent Kurdish state is closer or further away?
Abbas: One thing is for sure: Syria will never be the same again. Eventually, it is going to turn into another Somalia or Afghanistan. But the Kurdish people will fight that. Currently, the world powers ignore the desire of the Kurdish people to obtain independence but I believe that the international community should reevaluate this situation. The Kurdish people are the engine of democracy in the Middle East and we deserve our own home.