Saudi Arabia Is Funding Jihadists In Syria—And the U.S. Isn't Doing Anything About It
Syrian soldiers, who have defected to join the Free Syrian Army, hold up their rifles as they secure a street in Saqba, in Damascus suburbs.
Photo Credit: Freedom House/Flickr
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This is a broadcast transcript from Democracy Now's December 18th episode.
AMY GOODMAN: We are, though, speaking also with Patrick Cockburn, who’s in London right now, Middle East correspondent for The Independent. If you could take it from there, Patrick, and describe—I mean, you’re talking about the biggest emergency in the U.N.’s history, this crisis, the worst since World War II, as the U.N. is describing it right now. Do you see this as a proxy war? And between what countries, and for what, Patrick?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Oh, it is clearly a proxy war. I mean, this may have started off as a popular uprising in Syria, but by now it has four or five different conflicts wrapped into one, that—and you have an opposition, but an opposition which is fragmented and really proxies for foreign powers, notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar. Turkey plays a role. What has changed recently, since midsummer, is that Saudi Arabia is becoming the main financier for the rebel military groups inside Syria. Qatar is playing a lesser role. And the Saudis are trying to develop a Sunni Islamic force that is against the Assad government in Damascus, but is also against al-Qaeda. But this is, even so, very much a sectarian force, which is already being blamed for sectarian attacks on Christians and Druze and Alawites. There, then, of course, you also have the United States and Britain and France. A recent defector from the Free Syrian Army, who joined the al-Qaeda affiliate, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, said he was continually attending meetings—I don’t know—he didn’t say where, but probably in Turkey—in which always representatives of foreign intelligence services turned up, and at one moment while being presided over by the Saudi deputy defense minister.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Patrick Cockburn, could you explain what exactly happened to the Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army, the main opposition group that the U.S. and Britain and other countries in the West were backing and hoping would be a legitimate replacement, possibly, in the future to the Assad regime?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, there was always an element of pretense in this, pretending that the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Coalition were—represented Syrians inside the country. It was always very much an outside exile development. And, you know, they never really controlled much on the ground. And what they did control is now very little. That’s—you know, the headquarters was overrun by the Islamic Front, which is a sort of combination of Sunni groups, appears to be backed by Saudi Arabia. So, basically, it’s been a disaster. So these so-called sort of moderate elements don’t—have never had much influence inside Syria and now seem to be sort of almost completely marginalized.
AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of Idris leaving, going over the border into Turkey? Talk about who he is and his role.
PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, he’s the general—the former general who was—you know, I used to watch him and wonder how did he have so much time to appear on CNN and so many other programs abroad. It didn’t leave much time to direct military action. But I think it did reflect the fact that he was very much a figure which was useful for Western governments and Western media to promote as the leader of the revolt in Syria. But he was always pretty isolated, though he got a lot of believers outside the country. Now he seems to be on the run, really, between Turkey and Qatar. But there was always—I mean, it’s really pretenses being exposed about these movements and individuals not being representative of the opposition within Syria, and that opposition being far more sectarian, close to al-Qaeda than foreign governments were prepared to admit or foreign media was prepared to admit, even a year ago.