Syria's Iraq ambassador defects
BY CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA Associated Press
Thursday, July 12, 2012
7/12/12 at 3:58 AM
The Syrian ambassador to Iraq has defected, denouncing President Bashar Assad in a TV statement Wednesday, becoming the most senior diplomat to abandon the regime during a bloody 16-month uprising.
Nawaf Fares, a former provincial governor, is the second prominent Syrian to break with the regime in less than a week. Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas, an Assad confidant and son of a former defense minister, fled Syria last week, buoying Western powers and anti-regime activists, who expressed hope that other high-ranking defections would follow.
The high-level defections could be a sign that Assad's tightly wrapped regime is unraveling, but it was too early to be certain. There have been thousands of defections in the past, mostly low-level army conscripts, but until now, no one as senior as the general and the ambassador had fled.
In Geneva, United Nations envoy Kofi Annan said Wednesday that Assad has discussed the possibility of forming a transitional government for his country.
Annan said the Syrian leader proposed someone who could serve as an interlocutor for the regime as it explores ways of forming a transitional government with the opposition. He did not identify the person whose name Assad put forward but said: "He did offer a name and I indicated that I wanted to know a bit more about that individual. So we are at that stage."
Fares, in a statement broadcast on the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera, said he was resigning and joining the opposition. "I'm announcing from this moment on that I'm siding with the revolution in Syria," he said, according to the Al-Jazeera translation into English. He called on all Syrians to abandon Assad.
"Where is the honor in killing your countrymen? Where is the national allegiance? The nation is all the people, not one person in particular," he said. "The allegiance is to the people, not to a dictator who kills his people."
It was not known where or when Fares recorded the statement.
Appointed to the Baghdad post four years ago, Fares was the first Syrian ambassador to Iraq in 26 years. Like Tlas, he is a member of the Sunni elite in a regime dominated by Assad's minority Alawite sect.
Khaled Khoja, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council who is based in Istanbul, said Fares was "moving toward Turkey." Asked for details, Khoja said the information came from his own sources on the ground in Iraq.
There was no immediate comment from either Iraq or Syria.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. had no confirmation of the defection as of Wednesday afternoon. But he said recent high-level defections from the Assad regime were "a welcome development."
Original Print Headline: Syria's Iraq consul defects