Ammar al-Wawi, a one-time Syrian officer now second-in-command of the rebel Free Syrian Army
Ammar al-Wawi, a one-time Syrian officer now second-in-command of the rebel Free Syrian Army, poses for a picture during an interview in the restive Idlib province in northwestern Syria. © Ricardo Garcia Vilanova - AFP
Ammar al-Wawi, a one-time Syrian officer now second-in-command of the rebel Free Syrian Army
Antonio Pampliega, AFP
Last updated: March 14, 2012

Rebel chieftain: Assad deserves worse fate than Kadhafi's

"Assad has killed so many people that he deserves a fate worse than Kadhafi's," spits Ammar al-Wawi, a one-time Syrian officer now second-in-command of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

And despite the fact that the FSA, "armed only with Kalashnikovs and pistols," is at an overwhelming disadvantage against the tanks and artillery of Bashar al-Assad's army, Wawi says he is convinced the president will fall.

But when is another question.

The FSA claims to have 50,000 men under its command, but that compares with a regular army of 300,000 and another million in militia and secret police.

The Syrian "revolution against (colonial power) France took 10 years and the Palestinians have been fighting Israel since 1948, but a revolution triumphs when the people decide to put an end to the regime."

And Wawi is determined that it will be Syrians who overthrow a dictatorship that has lasted nearly 50 years.

The former army lieutenant says he has no use for the international community, saying its leaders "have no ethics and always support dictators."

Almost in the same breath, however, he says the rebels need no-fly zones and humanitarian corridors to deliver aid.

When asked whether, as charged by the Syrian authorities, there are elements among the FSA's ranks of Al-Qaeda, or mujahedeen from Afghanistan and Pakistan, he categorically denies that to be the case.

"All of us who make up the Free Syrian Army are Syrian; we were all soldiers in the regular army."

Referring to slain Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and exiled Tunisian strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, he argues that all dictators use the same scare tactics with the world community.

"But it's all lies."

In contrast, he claims that the regime is supported in its crackdown by elements of Iran's security forces, militia from Lebanon's Shiite movement Hezbollah and backers of radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The three groups are all Shiite Muslim, and Wawi accuses the regime of "beginning to use religion to divide the country," a majority of whose people are Sunni Muslims.

Yet Wawi insists there is no danger of Syria turning into another Iraq, where the US-led invasion of 2003 sparked a Sunni Arab insurgency that degenerated into ferocious sectarian bloodletting in 2006 and 2007 in which tens of thousands died.

In Syria, he says it has been the people who started it all, "meaning we don't envisage a civil or sectarian war because all Syrians want the same thing -- the fall of Assad."

Wawi did not comment on analysts' assessment that some sections of public opinion -- particularly within Syria's sizeable Christian minority as well as Assad's own Alawite community -- remain wary of any abrupt or violent overthrow of the regime out of a desire for stability and orderly reform.

For Wawi, the repeated failure of the international community to bring about negotiations means change will only come through force.

If Assad does not leave, he could face the same fate as Moamer Kadhafi -- hunted down, tortured and killed by his foes in October last year, the commander added.

The outgunned FSA has suffered a number of setbacks on the ground in recent days, with activists saying regime forces took full control of the northwestern city of Iblib late on Tuesday after rebel fighters withdrew.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that fierce clashes were still raging between troops and fighters in the Jabal al-Zawiya district of Idlib province on Wednesday.

"Seventeen soldiers were killed late Tuesday after armed rebels attacked checkpoints in the village of Al-Barra, in Jabal al-Zawiya," said the Britain-based monitoring group.

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