Syria's ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, has defected from the regime of embattled President Bashar al-Assad, an Arab diplomat in Baghdad told AFP Wednesday.
“He submitted a letter to the Iraqi MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs),” the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, told the French news agency.
“They (Iraqi officials) will have a meeting tomorrow (Thursday). They are going to discuss sending him to another country,” the diplomat added.
The United States said it could not confirm Fares' defection, but White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, according to AFP, “There have been a number of high-level defections in recent days and weeks, and they are simply the tip of the iceberg.”
He added, “There have been many, many defections within the military leadership, within the government, and I think that is an indication of the fact that support for Assad is crumbling, internationally and internally. And that's a welcome development.”
The ambassador’s defection comes barely a week after a top general, Manaf Tlass, defected from Assad’s army. Tlass is thus far the most influential military officer to have abandoned the Assad regime.
Tlass was an officer in the elite Republican Guard charged with protecting the regime. He is the son of former defense minister Mustafa Tlass, a close friend of Assad's late father and predecessor, Hafez.
The Pentagon said last week that Tlass’ defection is “significant” and signals cracks in Assad's inner circle.
He reportedly fled to Turkey, which has become home to dozens of soldiers who have crossed the border. Around 35,000 displaced Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey since the start of a bloody uprising in March 2011.