DW: Russia and Turkey have mediated a ceasefire between the Assad regime and the rebels. What’s your assessment of this agreement?
Omid Nouripour: There are two positive aspects to it. First: Every minute there is no shooting is a good minute for Syria. Second: With previous ceasefire agreements it was often unclear which groups they covered and which they didn’t. Now, though, the exceptions have been named: Fighting continues against the jihadist groups Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and “Islamic State” (IS). That makes it easier to gauge the duration and stability of the agreement. But however glad we are of this reprieve, it doesn’t remotely represent the start of peace negotiations or even national reconciliation. So right now we shouldn’t build up any illusions, even though this development can only be welcomed.
What would be needed for the ceasefire to hold?
The United Nations must take over as the ones leading the negotiations. The UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura is the only one able to play a neutral role in this. He should therefore be put in charge of the negotiations. If the ceasefire holds longer than a few days – which would be a tremendous success – it will be crucially important for there to be a political process that really does lead to something like peace talks. Of course there is then the question of what kind of national transitional government would be possible, what the mechanisms for the transfer of power – such as elections – might be, what might be the processes for national reconciliation. Only the UN would be capable of achieving all this, not the Iranians and the Russians.
Omid Nouripour, foreign policy spokesman for the Greens
The question would also be whether the two countries would even want this.
We shouldn’t underestimate the tensions within the Assad camp. There have been many situations in which completely different, sometimes even opposing pronouncements came from the entourage of the respective governments. Obviously there are many things the Russians and Iranians don’t agree on, either.
The international community left a vacuum in Syria that Assad and his allies filled with bombs. But it’s also the case that the problem of jihadism has a powerful impact on domestic politics in Russia. I don’t believe that Russia has any interest in increasing the problem of jihadism in the Caucasus by stubbornly holding on to Assad – he is, after all, the main symbol for barrel bombs, chemical weapons and ruined cities. So I assume that in the medium term the Russians will have to distance themselves from Assad.
The problem of jihadism exists in Syria alongside the Assad regime – and not only there. How should it be dealt with?
We have to understand that we are dealing with an idea. IS is the spearhead of this idea. If we defeat IS in Syria and Iraq, that won’t be the end of the problem. It has to be about giving the Sunnis a perspective, too, so that they have a hope of surviving in these two countries.
Take Iraq: The different political approaches become apparent when you consider the examples of Tikrit and Fallujah. After the conquest of Tikrit, the first thing they tried to do was restore the water and electricity supplies. There are still very serious problems there, but many people have returned nonetheless. Things are reasonably calm.
Fallujah, on the other hand, was 85 percent destroyed, in the battle for the city, and by the Shia militias. So if Fallujah is to be the model of how IS is to be conquered, we are magnifying the jihadist problem. We saw this in Aleppo: The only ones helping the people in East Aleppo, grinning into the camera, were the jihadists. There were hardly any other helpers to be seen.
In circumstances like these, how does one counter “Islamic State”?
For a great many people, IS is a very attractive organization. It has a lot of money and logistical support – far more than al-Qaida ever had. Their ideology is also far more nihilistic. The jihadists will concentrate on asymmetric conflicts with, and within, our societies. So we have to understand that this is not just about a conflict with an individual organization. Rather, we must do all we can to immunize the children of our societies against such an ideology.
They should not become convinced that the only ones championing their people are these sinister jihadists. This should mean that after the terrible attack in Berlin, Chancellor Merkel doesn’t just call the Tunisian president to make him take back his criminals. Part of it should also involve speaking to the king of Saudi Arabia, so that his country doesn’t continue to finance Salafist groups – because the Salafists are the channel that leads to jihadism.
Omid Nouripour is a member of the German Bundestag for the Green Party, and foreign policy spokesperson for his parliamentary group.
The interview was conducted by Kersten Knipp.