Khaddam: Iran considers Syria as one of its main pillars in its regional strategy.

publisher: المصري اليوم

Publishing date: 2011-04-23


The Syrian uprising prompted Abdul Halim Khaddam, former Vice President of Syria, to break his silence. He admitted to the newspaper “Al-Masry Al-Youm” that he was a part of the Syrian regime and affirmed his willingness to appear before any Arab or international investigation committee or court in relation to corruption cases he is accused of. “Al-Masry Al-Youm” interviewed Khaddam in a daring and candid conversation:

Mr. Abdul Halim Khaddam, how serious is the Syrian regime about implementing reforms that respond to the aspirations of the Syrian people, and can President Assad take such steps?

I believe that no one among the Syrians expects there to be any reforms. The word “reform” has been heard by the Syrians since July 2000 until now, and it has always been avoided. Important decisions were issued by the Party’s Qatar Conference in June 2005, adopting the direction of reform in the state, society, and the party. At the forefront was the launch of public freedoms, freedom of the press, and putting an end to the security’s interference in the country’s affairs. However, six years have passed and these decisions are still stored in files.

Let’s first look at the structure of the regime. The individual dictatorial regime considers authority to be its possession, and it views the state as a farm. Bashar al-Assad lived in a house where his father was the absolute ruler in Syria. He saw and heard how his father made decisions over the phone and how he was the ultimate authority in the Council of Ministers, the People’s Council, the party’s leadership, and the National Front. He inherited the characteristics of the all-encompassing regime from his father.

Add to that Bashar al-Assad’s nature: he always places himself between two positions at the same time, issuing one decision and then receiving another, changing his stance on the matter. Therefore, Bashar doesn’t base his decisions on the objective factors required by the decision.

  • But President Assad said that reforms need time, isn’t that true?

Does making the decision to lift the state of emergency, launch freedoms, and reduce the security’s dominance over people and the country require years?! This only takes ten minutes, or even less, to sign the decree and have it signed. Because the president is the one with the decision. The Party Law, the draft of which has been in the party’s files since 2005, and the draft Media Law as well since 2005. Any studies? The issue isn’t about studies! The appeal to studies is just an excuse to avoid facing a certain stage and then to retreat from it.

  • Mr. Khaddam, you spoke earlier about the National Front, but these parties within the front are opposition parties. Can’t it be said, based on your words, that they are conspiring against it?

Firstly, they are not opposition parties; they are established parties within the National Front, and the state’s constitution has spoken about them. Secondly, these parties were indeed opposition parties, but I personally felt saddened when I heard senior leaders, respected by the Syrian people, speaking flatteringly about President Hafez al-Assad, just like a junior employee speaking to the head of state. As a result, the parties eroded, and barely any party remained without splitting into several factions. The Communist Party, led by Khalid Bakdash, became three parties; the Socialist Union Party became three or four parties; the Socialist Democratic Union Movement became three parties.

  • But what are the reasons?

The reason is that these leaders deviated from their principles and focused on pleasing the authority! Pleasing the authority was the foundation, and thus there was competition within the leadership of these parties. Whoever was closer to the authority would gain an advantage. Some were enthusiastic, others were hesitant, and the hesitant would split, and so on.

  • Mr. Khaddam, you admit that you were a part of the Syrian regime, even one of its architects. Can I say, based on what you said, that you were a party to the conspiracy in Syria?

Firstly, the conspirator here is the president, who has the decision-making power. I was not the one with the decision. In internal politics, the decision-making power belonged to the President of the State. The decision in internal politics was with the President of the State, and his main tool was the security agencies. Occasionally, he would seek the Prime Minister’s advice or some ministers.

In foreign policy, yes, I was responsible, but I was not the decision-maker. I was a partner in the decision, and I would prepare the programs and plans for implementing the foreign policy. I am proud of everything I’ve done. Syria did not fall into major mistakes in essential issues; it did not make concessions to any state that would compromise the country’s security or sovereignty.

  • Your point has reached me, Mr. Khaddam, but you were the Vice President of the Republic. Wasn’t there a role in presenting or discussing your opinion with President Hafez al-Assad, whether the father or the son, regarding the role of security agencies in Lebanon and their transgressions?

I left the Lebanese file in 1998. There was a presidential election cycle, and President Hafez al-Assad was leaning towards Emile Lahoud. In my view, Emile Lahoud’s presidency would disrupt Syria because Lebanon cannot bear a military president. I discussed the matter with President Hafez repeatedly, but he insisted. After Lahoud’s election, I informed the President that I could not continue with the Lebanese file because President Lahoud knows my position about his election, and this does not serve relations. Every matter would be referred back to my position, and thus, I abandoned the Lebanese file. However, sometimes certain difficulties arose that required my intervention with some Lebanese parties. I would summon them, discuss with them, and so on.

If we link the topic between Syria and Lebanon now, after Bashar al-Assad’s speech in the People’s Council, someone came out to say on one of the TV channels that he had received offers of arms to support the rebels in Daraa. He accused the mentioned person through the media of being one of the March 14 Alliance and accused Prime Minister Saad Hariri of the same, claiming that they are one of the parties. What’s your opinion on that?

Unfortunately, the political administration in Syria always deceives itself and believes that it is deceiving the people. Who in Syria would believe that the March 14 Alliance or Saad Hariri could have even a minor connection to any faction of the Syrian opposition or any revolutionary youth in Syria? This is not related to the situation in Syria, but rather to their own situations. They still live under the fear of the regime. So, the March 14 Alliance has been accused of many issues, and Saad Hariri or the March 14 Alliance didn’t dare, and I will say it honestly, to take a stance that would refute these allegations. For instance, the issue of the detention warrants for 24 Lebanese individuals from the March 14 Alliance and those close to Hariri was not handled as it should have been. Instead of rejecting the accusations, they handed the matter over to the Ministry of Justice to request the file from the Syrian Ministry of Justice, thus burying the matter. In Lebanon, the March 14 Alliance, before and after the assassination of President Rafik Hariri, suffered a lot and they don’t want to find themselves confronting the Syrian regime. They are unable to bear its burdens, so there was silence. One of the MPs, Mr. Jamal al-Jarrah, who is accused, responded and denied, as did the Future Bloc. But this denial came shy and humble, and I understand the reasons, as I know the extent and nature of the means that the regime possesses and could use against those people who the Syrian regime should be indebted to, not creditors.

  • From your words, it’s understood that you are refuting these claims about arming Syria?

Let me tell you, the issue of arms is a huge lie, a very big lie, and it can be called the “April 1st Lie.”

  • Mr. Khaddam, what about the accusation directed at you as well, of sending a ship with weapons to Syria? And why did the Syrian regime level this serious accusation against you?

They accuse me of sending a ship with weapons, drugs, and 3 million dollars to a friend of mine in Banias. Here I ask, how did this ship arrive, since the Syrian coast and ports are monitored and controlled by the regime? If a fisherman goes out 100 meters from the shore in his boat, he is monitored by naval forces. So how can a ship arrive? Is it a box of matches or a chocolate bar in a traveler’s pocket? And secondly, where is the weapon and who took it?

  • But we saw on Syrian TV masked and armed individuals saying that they are members of gangs, as claimed by the Syrian regime?

These masked individuals seem to represent a dramatic series. If they were able to film them in this way, why didn’t they arrest them? Secondly, they could bring in a person and subject them to all kinds of pressures and take confessions from them. This is a well-known tactic of the regime. Let’s recall the Egyptian young man who was arrested and accused of being an Israeli envoy to Syria to film the protesters in exchange for a sum of dollars. He was released after his father came to Syria and threatened them, as the young man hadn’t gone to Israel. He came to Syria and Lebanon for a visit and lives in the United States. He left Syria and told all the media outlets that what he was accused of was a big lie.

  • What about the accusations against Hezbollah and Iran of sending fighter groups and snipers to Syria to support the regime in suppressing the revolution?

Regarding Iran, it considers Syria as one of the main pillars of its strategy in the region. Through Syria, Iran controls Lebanon and holds the Palestinian and Iraqi cards. Practically, Syria plays a pivotal role in Iran’s regional strategy. Changing the regime in Syria would mean that Iran’s strategy would collapse. Any new regime wouldn’t allow Syria to be a base or a passage for Iran’s strategy. Iran supports the Syrian regime greatly and is involved in planning its policies both inside and outside the country. When an Iranian official comes out and accuses the protesters of being American agents and claims that these agents are the majority, it is trying to change the color of Syria. I was asked about Iranians in the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah being present with Syrian forces in Daraa. I didn’t believe it because I didn’t expect Iran to fall into this trap, using its elements. But after my statement, I received information from Syrian sources that confirmed the presence of elements from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah.

  • But what is the interest of Iran and Hezbollah in falling into what you called a trap?

Iran believes that intensifying the youth revolution in Syria would topple the regime. It realizes that Bashar al-Assad is incapable of suppressing this revolution, and it also knows that some actions, like sniping, can’t be done well by the regime. So, Iran sent its elements to Syria through its experience.

  • So, you’re saying that after exporting the Khomeini revolution, Iran is now exporting its experience in suppressing protests?


  • Mr. Khaddam, the Syrian media claims that the people want Bashar al-Assad, that the protesters are few, and that infiltrators are the ones killing people, along with security and army members?

I ask, is there any nation in history that can love its oppressor, the Syrian people who are oppressed and impoverished by the corruption of the ruling family? The Syrian people who are deprived of job opportunities, who don’t see any connection between themselves and the existing state, how can they love those who rob their dignity and impoverish them, those who block their children’s paths?

Bashar al-Assad believes it, and his problem is that he deceives himself. When he entered the People’s Council and they applauded and danced, he thought that the Syrian people were with him, not realizing that these clowns were servants of the security apparatus, they are the ones who clap in every occasion.

  • A Western journalist once wondered, when he followed Bashar al-Assad’s speech in the People’s Council, whether there is any opposition member within the Council. A Syrian official answered that all the Council members are opposition. So why does Mr. Khaddam want to cast doubt on Bashar al-Assad’s popularity?

This question and answer carry their implications. He wants to say that, yes, there is no opposition, and yet he dares not to say it directly, so he says that everyone is opposition! How can everyone be opposition when everyone claps and dances? If the former MP, Mr. Riyad Sayf, presented a constitutional amendment proposal, and it was discussed in committees, what happened? It was referred to the State Security Court, and he was accused of conspiring against the constitution. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

Riyad Sayf was truly one of the MPs who had national awareness, he was principled, and he suffered enormously from the regime’s injustice, which knows no bounds.

“But Riyadh Seif also objected to the imposition of telephone communications for the cousin of the Syrian president in Syriatel company, saying that the Syrian media reported that he was given the project to prevent Israeli penetration of the Syrian cellular network.

Yes, he raised the issue of Syriatel and presented a technical and economic study showing the extent of the state’s losses. What was the result? They created a problem for him, and as a result, he was put in jail, an excuse not to involve Israel in the matter.

Alright, Rami Makhlouf might be safe from Israel, but these relatives of the president who met with Israeli officials outside Syria, like Bashar al-Assad’s meeting with the head of the Zionist lobby in the United States, are aiming to initiate negotiations with Israel, not with the goal of achieving an agreement, but with the intention of pretending that they want peace. How can this not be considered an intrusion? This talk is a major deception. Granting privileges to Rami Makhlouf is all about profit. Rami collaborates with all the benefits he gains and is given privileges that violate the law. For example, duty-free markets do not sell their goods for local consumption, but for travelers. However, duty-free markets across the borders in most Syrian cities trade even in selling fish and all their commerce with the interior, effectively replacing the Ministry of Finance in tax matters, taxing profits as if the goods are legally exported and exempt from taxes! All projects are leased to him, from the port of Tartus to the port of Latakia, and the airline company, and he is given the privilege of building power stations. Rami Makhlouf now owns an estimated share equivalent to at least a quarter of Syria’s national income. His annual profit from the telecom company is around two billion dollars. All of this to prevent Israeli penetration. If that were the case, the telecommunications company should have remained state-owned, and the billions Makhlouf earns should have gone to the treasury.

“Said Khaddam, you spoke about corruption and its files in Syria, but you are also accused as a pillar of the regime and one of the pillars of corruption?”

“I am accused and I give facts. I am outside Syria. The regime is still in power and has everything it needs. I challenge anyone to bring forward a corruption file involving me or any of my relatives, even up to the twentieth degree. If this exists, I challenge them.”

“I challenge them to form an Arab or international investigation committee…”

“Or a national one?”

“No, ‘national’ operates under the supervision of the regime and security. I mean Arab and international ones, to investigate all corruption operations in Syria. I present all the information I have, and let Bashar al-Assad present his files. Let’s see who the corrupt ones are. When Rami Makhlouf graduated from university, he used to receive a monthly allowance of around 500 Syrian pounds (9 dollars). Now his annual income from all his activities is about 3 billion dollars, and this has been going on for ten years.”

“Excuse me, Said Khaddam, but do you deny that your children also had companies and interests and benefited from your position in power to facilitate their interests?”

“My eldest son works in Saudi Arabia, and the second formed a company with three non-Syrian partners. They were not even selling their products to any Syrian institution.”

“But didn’t they benefit from your position in power?”

“What did they benefit from? Whenever I expressed a viewpoint that contradicted the general line, the security apparatus would launch a campaign against me, accusing my sons. I challenge them to present even one file.”

“As Said Khaddam, do you say that you are ready to appear before any Arab or international investigation committee if the Syrian regime changes as you predict and expect? Are you ready to appear before a fair and national investigation committee?”

“Of course, of course.”

“But what if you were convicted? Are you ready to accept it?”

“Of course, if I am convicted, I should accept it. If I or any member of my family committed any act that harms the country, the people, and the people’s interests, I am responsible.”

“So, Abdul Halim Khaddam, you do not fear arrest or accountability?”

“I don’t fear it at all. I don’t fear it at all. In the near future, the Syrian people will put the killers and thieves in jail.”

“As long as you are absolutely confident in your innocence and integrity, as you say, and you have not touched public money, and have no connection to corruption, why is there a negative image of Khaddam in the Syrian street?”

“The image of Khaddam is completely different, and this is not true. When a security element or a regime supporter accuses people, they don’t deal with the matter this way. I have full confidence that people will respect me because in all the circumstances I worked in, in power, I never did anything harmful to the people or citizens.”

“Do you admit that you are part of the Syrian regime, Said Khaddam?”

“Yes, I am part of the regime.”

“And you take responsibility?”

“Yes, I take the moral responsibility as being part of the regime, it’s true, and I don’t deny it. But I don’t accept being said that I am the one responsible or part of the responsibility for the crimes committed by the regime.”

“So, does Abdul Halim Khaddam have the courage to say to his people, the great Syria, ‘Pardon me, your people, because I was part of this regime’?”

“First of all, when I publicly criticized the regime and spoke to the media, I made it clear that I morally take a part of the responsibility, even though I suffered a lot because of my serious objections to the internal and even foreign policies of Syria. So, the Syrian people don’t blame me because Syrians are not convinced that I committed a mistake or a crime. But there is a moral issue, and I say that it’s the right of the Syrian people to morally question me, and I need to provide reasons for my continuation in the regime. In reality, my decision to leave the regime was made around 1995 or 1996, but I calculated that if I left, one of three things would happen, either like the fate of Muhammad Imran, who was killed in Tripoli, or Muhammad Salah al-Bitar, who was killed in Paris, or like Salah Jadid, who died in prison after 25 years, so if I was one of those three, what would I have contributed to the Syrian people? So, this matter is not as simple as it might seem. I say all of this with complete courage. I am ready for accountability before an international or Arab court or an investigation committee, regarding any issue where anyone has an accusation. If I am judged according to that and found guilty, then I am ready for any accountability. I stood at the Qatar Conference and spoke clearly and frankly about all of Syria’s internal suffering and all the mistakes made in foreign policy. I told the Baathists that they must change, otherwise their party will end up as old news.”

ـ Here, the question arises about the fate of the Ba’ath Party after the fall of the regime as you predict. What can you tell us?

We must distinguish between the Ba’ath Party in the 1950s when the Ba’athists were advocates who were not influenced by power. They defended the people’s rights and national issues under all circumstances. They did not hesitate to participate in a national unity government when the country was in danger, driven by a sense of national responsibility.

ـ But what about the current Ba’ath Party?

The current Ba’ath Party in Syria, with its constitution, values, and slogans, effectively ended with the dissolution of the party on February 5th after the unity between Syria and Egypt during the separation phase. The individuals who were Ba’athists during that time formed four parties. Each of these four groups was led by leaders within the party and had their history within the party. The Movement of March 8th emerged.

ـ A movement or a coup on March 8th?

It was a coup, referred to as a movement or a revolution, carried out by party-affiliated military personnel using tanks.

The current Ba’ath Party is no longer operationally or ideologically aligned with its slogans. Firstly, the unity, meaning Arab unity, which the Ba’athists advocated, has now been replaced by Syrians’ fear for their national cohesion. When matters fall under the umbrella of the Ba’ath Party, we must realize the extent of regression that has occurred in Syria and within the party.

The second slogan is freedom. In the party’s constitution, it clearly states that freedom is sacred and individual freedom is a fundamental condition for societal growth. Yet, the current reality shows that freedom in Syria has boiled down to the freedom of security through suppression, and the freedom of officials to engage in corruption. So, where has this freedom gone? As for socialism, the regime maintained the facade of socialism, and when Bashar took over, he labeled it a “social market economy.” This was a cover for the regime to control wealth for the family and associated groups.

ـ Mr. Khaddam, the phenomenon of the “shabiha” has emerged in Syrian events. Who are they?

The “shabiha” are elements from the Republican Guard, the Assad Brigades within the army, security agencies, as well as smugglers who are loyal to the Assad family. These groups engage in smuggling operations. The phenomenon of the “shabiha” appeared after Hafez al-Assad came to power. After February 16, when the Hafez al-Assad era began, the phenomenon of the President’s brothers and his wife’s brothers emerged. Assad would speak out against corruption, but he wouldn’t take action against his family. This opened the door for more corruption, which extended to various parts of the country. Once the fathers were gone, the sons took over. Each son formed an armed group for smuggling.

These groups exert control over situations that defy reason and logic. This affected all Syrians, including Alawite community members, who were subjected to bad and degrading treatment by the Assad family’s sons.

ـ What’s your outlook for the future of the revolution in Syria?

These young people will succeed in achieving their goals. Syria will regain its democratic system, and Syrians will regain their freedoms. They will exercise their basic rights as citizens in terms of rights and duties.

ـ And what about the future of the regime after the success of the revolution?

Like any regime that the people hold accountable, it will face the consequences.

ـ And what about your own future, Mr. Khaddam?

I can honestly and clearly say that since I announced my resignation from my leadership positions within the party and the state, I decided to step away from political activities. I’ve spent over 60 years of my life in political activities. Therefore, I have chosen to engage in national work and serve my country in ways that I can, without holding any leadership position within the state or any political party. We, who have worked in politics, should step aside and let the younger generations take their roles and build their future, just as we did when we were their age.

ـ So, Abdul Halim Khaddam is stepping away from political work?

This revolution is the youth’s revolution. The duty of Abdul Halim Khaddam and all fathers who have been involved in politics is to give way to these young people and support them, rather than burden them.