Syria’s ambassador to Iraq defected and joined the opposition, saying the government of President Bashar al-Assad has turned the ruling Baath party into “an instrument to kill people.”
Nawaf al-Fares is the first Syrian ambassador to abandon the government since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. Mohammed Bassam Imadi, a former Syrian ambassador to Sweden, defected late last year and is now a member of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group. Last month, a Syrian air force colonel flew a fighter jet into neighboring Jordan, where he was granted political asylum.
Al-Fares’s resignation yesterday came less than a week after the announcement that Brigadier-General Manaf Tlas, a childhood friend of Assad’s and part of his inner circle, had fled. Unlike Tlas, who has remained silent and hasn’t openly announced his defection, al-Fares said he’s “joining the revolution.”
“I resign from my mission as the ambassador of the Syrian Arab Republic to Iraq,” al-Fares said in a statement to Al Jazeera television. “I call upon the honorable members of the party to follow my lead. I also call on all the honorable and free Syrians, especially military personnel, to immediately join the revolution.”
‘Loss of Confidence’
Al-Fares’ defection “is a symptom of a loss of confidence even from those close to the regime that it is going to win this confrontation” said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East Center in Beirut. “They are beginning to distance themselves from this regime and to position themselves for a post-Assad situation.”
Salem said the defection doesn’t mean the government will collapse “in days or weeks, but likely in many months.”
“These symptoms which one saw in the first weeks of uprisings in other countries have happened a year and a half after the Syrian one started indicating the very difficult and slow and costly nature of the Syrian uprising and transition as opposed to the others,” he said. “We’re still in slow motion.”
Assad’s government is fighting an insurrection that has killed at least 17,000 people, including more than 4,000 members of the Syrian military, according to Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least 78 people were killed yesterday, the Local Coordination Committees in Syria said in an e-mail.
Authorities have portrayed the unrest as a conspiracy and the protesters as radical Islamists.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said al-Fares made remarks that “conflict” with his duties, which requires legal and disciplinary measures, the state-run Sana news agency reported.
It said al-Fares “has been relieved of his duties and no longer has any relationship with the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”