Islamist rebel leader says if regime is toppled, Syrian people can choose their form of government

Zahran Alloush, head of the Army of Islam, a Syrian rebel militia, in his first interview with U.S. news media spoke to McClatchy in Istanbul: The charismatic Alloush, who has a master’s degree in Shariah law from the Islamic University in Medina, Saudi Arabia, and spent two years in a regime jail on suspicion of “religious activity,” said that as leader of a major militia but also a religious scholar, he had to be part of the debate.

“I have the right to discuss. In any discussion, I would express my own views and others theirs,” he said.

In his interview with McClatchy, he adhered to the moderate line: “If we succeed in toppling the regime, we will leave it to the Syrian people to choose the form of state they want,” he said. “As for coexistence with minorities, this has been the situation in Syria for hundreds of years. We are not seeking to impose our power on minorities or to practice oppression against them.”

Another aide said that Alloush, to improve his image, was ready to dispense with the black and white Islamic flag and adopt the Syrian flag used by other rebel forces.

Whatever comes of the shift in his public stance, Alloush doesn’t expect to receive any aid from the U.S. government.

“Frankly speaking, the current administration is a hindrance to the Syrian people,” he said. “It prevents it from getting its freedom.”

He charged the U.S. with maintaining a “double standard” – ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein under the pretext that he had chemical weapons while not punishing Assad even after he’d used chemical weapons. He also said the U.S. had blocked a shipment of anti-aircraft weapons that had been due to come from Libya.

“We have been in contact with them many times,” he said, “but we have reached the conclusion that the current administration doesn’t care about the Syrian people. They see atrocities happening in Syria and do nothing. They don’t allow us to defend ourselves.”

In fact, he said the Army of Islam had been in direct touch with Daniel Rubinstein, the Obama administration’s special envoy for Syria, an assertion the State Department confirmed.

Alloush was especially bitter about the U.S. government sending him a message in February that asked him to halt rocket attacks on Damascus. [Continue reading…]

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