Ahrar Al-Sham official Al-Farouk Abu Bakr, the chief negotiator for the Aleppo opposition factions, said, in a recent interview on the Syrian Halab Today TV channel, that "there were problems between Iran and Russia with regard to the agreement." In another interview, on the Al-Jazeera network, he repeated the claims, saying that "the Russians wanted us to go according to their agreement and decisions, while the Iranians wanted us to go according to theirs." "The Russians controlled the airspace and had the planes, but on the ground, the Iranian and Iraqi militias were in control," he said, and consequently, "the operative measures were taken directly with the Iranians." The interviews aired on January 1 and 5, 2017.
Al-Farouk Abu Bakr: At first, the agreement was with the Russians only.
Interviewer: There was no involvement of anyone on behalf of Iran, or of the (Syrian) regime at first?
Al-Farouk Abu Bakr: Absolutely not.
Interviewer: Only the Russians...
Al-Farouk Abu Bakr: As I already mentioned in a TV interview, the role of the Syrian regime, of Assad's gangs, amounted to no more than bringing buses and tractors to open up roads. Assad's gangs did not play a role in determining the terms of the actual agreement. Our agreement was with the Russian side alone. When Iran intervened and set obstacles, in order to bring the villages of Fu'ah and Kafriya into the agreement, I negotiated with Russia and Iran alone. The Syrian regime had no role except to open up roads and clean them, and to remove roadblocks so that the buses could get through. At first we reached an agreement with Russia, and we presented it in the media. We began to implement it, and we felt that... The Russian general kept saying The Russian general kept saying that we had to make haste in implementing the agreement, because there was a third party - that he hinted at, but did not name - that was stalling the agreement and was trying to thwart it.
Interviewer: He was referring to Iran.
Al-Farouk Abu Bakr: Of course. Later we realized that it was Iran.
Interviewer: As is well known, Russia is anxious for the agreement to be carried out, and it emphasizes that it is interested in it. Why is this, in your opinion?
Al-Farouk Abu Bakr: In the last stage of the military campaign, Russia paid a heavy price in the war in Syria. I believe that it wants to extricate itself from the predicament in which it embroiled itself in Syria. It placed a military, financial, and economic burden on Russia, and I believe that they are trying to "save face" and get out of Syria.
There were problems between Iran and Russia with regard to the agreement. Russia exerted pressure to ensure the success of its agreement, and to achieve a political and military victory in Aleppo, by any means possible, whereas the Iranians did not reap any benefit from the Russian-Turkish agreement.
Militarily, Russia did not call the shots because it did not have any presence on the ground. The Russians controlled the airspace and had the planes, but on the ground, the Iranian and Iraqi militias were in control.
The agreement came into effect, and we began taking the measures on the ground. I began a new channel of communications with the Iranians. It was with an Iranian spokesman, a man called Abu Ahmad, who spoke a Lebanese dialect. He began to communicate with me about implementing the agreement. The Russians and the Iranians both maintained contact with me. The Russian said: "Your contact is with me, and your agreement with us is the one that will be implemented." The Iranian side also maintained contact with me, and told me that the agreement that would be implemented was the one between us, and none other.
Interviewer: So there was no coordination between them?
Al-Farouk Abu Bakr: Absolutely not. The Russians wanted us to go according to their agreement and decisions, while the Iranians wanted us to go according to theirs.
Interviewer: Ultimately, who worded the final version of the agreement?
Al-Farouk Abu Bakr: The operative measures were taken directly with the Iranians, because they were the ones with a presence on the ground. The Russians had no control over the militias.