Syria ambassador to Iraq 'defects'
The Syrian ambassador to Iraq has defected and will seek asylum in Turkey, the most senior diplomat to abandon the regime since the uprising against president Bashar Assad began 16 months ago, a Syrian opposition figure said.
The ambassador, Nawaf Fares, is heading to Turkey, said Khaled Khoja, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council. If confirmed, it would be the second major defection to hit the Assad regime in less than a week.
"It's certain. He has defected. He declared his defection," said Mr Khoja, who is based in Istanbul. Asked for details, Mr Khoja said the information came from his own sources on the ground in Syria.
An operator who answered the phone at the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad said there was nobody at the embassy. When asked if the ambassador is currently in Iraq, the operator said he did not know.
Last week, France announced the defection of Manaf Tlass, an Assad confidant and son of a former defence minister who helped ease Mr Assad into power. Mr Tlass was the highest ranking official to abandon the regime so far, and Western powers and anti-regime activists hoped his departure would encourage others to leave too.
Thousands of soldiers, most of them low-level conscripts, have deserted and joined the rebels. But despite the high-profile defections in recent days, Mr Assad's regime has largely held together in the face of the uprising - particularly compared with the swift haemorrhaging of Muammar Gaddafi's inner circle in Libya in 2011.
www.syriancouncil.org/ (Syrian National Council)