December 4, 2013
A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon as he takes a position in Aleppo's Sheikh Saeed neighbourhood December 4, 2013. REUTERS/Molhem Barakat (SYRIA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY CONFLICT)
A Free Syrian Army fighter in Aleppo. (Molhem Barakat/Reuters)

What did Syrian Gen. Salim Idriss mean when he said the Free Syrian Army he commands would be ready to fight with the regular Syrian army against al-Qaeda after President Bashar al-Assad leaves power?

His comment, quoted in my Post column Tuesday, has caused a stir within the Syrian opposition — with some blasting Idriss for supposedly implying that he would fight with Assad. But he didn’t say that at all — as some quotes from the interview make clear.

“If Bashar al-Assad leaves power and we can have a transitional government under control of the opposition, and the ISIS [the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria," as the al-Qaeda affiliate is known] refuses to leave the country, it is very important for all Syrians to fight against them,” Idriss said.

“When Bashar Assad leaves power, the army will not be the regime army, but the army of the people,” the Free Syrian Army commander continued, stressing: “The army must fight ISIS.” It was this post-Assad army that Idriss was saying he would join in combating al-Qaeda, not the current regime army.

Idriss insisted throughout the interview that Assad must leave as president through negotiations for a political transition, which are scheduled to begin in Geneva on Jan. 22. “If Bashar al-Assad leaves, the problems of Syria can be solved,” he said.

To claim that Idriss is prepared to fight alongside Assad is a gross misreading of what he said.

David Ignatius writes a twice-a-week foreign affairs column and contributes to the PostPartisan blog.