The most senior Syrian diplomat to defect and publicly embrace his country’s uprising is calling for a foreign military intervention to topple President Bashar al-Assad. He also accused the Damascus regime of collaborating with al Qaeda militants against opponents both in Syria and in neighboring Iraq.
“I support military intervention because I know the nature of this regime,” Nawaf al-Fares told CNN. “This regime will only go by force.” Until a few days ago, Fares was Syria’s top man in Baghdad.
His defection marks a shocking about-face for an official who occupied a critically important post. Until Fares was sent to Iraq in 2008, Syria had no ambassador stationed in Baghdad for more than 20 years.
“I was at the top of the Syrian regime,” Fares said in his first interview with a U.S.-based TV network since his defection. “But what happened in the last year during the holy revolution, all of the killing, the massacres, the refugees, and the declaration of war by Bashar al-Assad against the Syrian people, stopped any kind of hope for reform or real change, which had been promised previously by Bashar al-Assad.
“I tried during the last year and a half to convince the regime to change its treatment of the people,” Fares added. “But I wasn’t successful, so I decided to join the people.”
Damascus confirmed news of Fares’ defection in a short article published by Syria’s state news agency SANA, which announced that the ambassador had effectively been fired for leaving the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad without official authorization.
Prior to his diplomatic assignment in Iraq, Fares served as a provincial governor in different parts of Syria for a decade. He was also a regional boss in Syria’s ruling Baath Party.
Photographs on Syrian government websites as well as from Fares’ personal collection show that on more than one occasion, this native of the eastern city of Deir Ezzor reported directly to the Syrian president.
In an interview that lasted for nearly two hours in the gilded halls of a luxury hotel in the Qatari capital, Fares laid the blame for large-scale allegations of human rights abuses in Syria squarely at the feet of the country’s president.
“The regime in Syria is a totalitarian regime and a dictatorship. There is only one person who gives the orders: one person who is the president,” Fares said.
Syria’s state news agency has maintained that “armed terrorist groups” are behind the violence, which the United Nations estimates has killed more than 10,000 people since March 2011. CNN cannot independently verify reports from Syria, including Fares’ allegations, because the nation has restricted access by international journalists.