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Syrian Defections Begin to Mount

Nawaf Fares, Syria's Ambassador to Iraq, in a picture taken December 7, 2006.

Nawaf Fares, Syria's Ambassador to Iraq, in a picture taken December 7, 2006.

In the last week, Syria's ambassador to neighboring Iraq and the commander of an elite Syrian Republican Guard unit have defected from President Bashar al-Assad's government.

The two join a growing number of high-ranking members of Syria's Sunni minority who have left the country recently, highlighting the increasingly sectarian nature of the 16-month-old conflict.

Here's a look at some recent deserters from Syria's political and military establishment:

Ambassador Nawaf Fares - July 11

Fares became the first Syrian envoy to defect from Mr. Assad's government since the uprising broke out in March 2011.

In a statement broadcast on the Arab-language satellite channel Al-Jazeera, the diplomat announced he had joined the opposition and resigned from Syria's ruling Ba'ath party. He urged "all honest members" of the party to follow his path "because the regime has turned it into an instrument to kill people and their aspirations to freedom and dignity." Fares also called on the Syrian military to "turn your guns on the criminals" of the government.

The Syrian foreign ministry said Thursday that Fares, who has close ties to the security services, has been relieved of his duties and should face "legal and disciplinary accountability." Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Fares is now in Qatar, one of the Gulf states overtly supporting the rebels and calling for Mr. Assad's ouster.

Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass - July 6
Like Fares, Tlass was part of Syria's privileged Sunni elite in a government dominated by President Assad's minority Alawite sect. He is the son of an even more prominent general, former Syrian defense minister Mustafa Tlass, a confidant of President Hafez al-Assad, Mr. Assad's late father.

The highest-ranking military officer to have abandoned the Syrian government, Tlass was a member of the inner circle of power in Syria, and a childhood friend of Mr. Assad. He is reportedly headed for Paris, where his family and much of the Syrian political opposition is based, or is already there. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday Tlass has been in contact with the Syrian opposition but members of the exile Syrian National Council say it is not yet clear whether he will join the rebels.

Col. Hassan Hammadeh - June 21
The Syrian fighter pilot flew his MiG-21 warplane to neighboring Jordan, where he was given asylum in a defection from what is known to be Syria's fiercely loyal air force. Hammadeh had been on a training mission.

Imad Ghalioun - January 2012
Ghalioun, a member of Syria’s parliament, left the country to join the opposition, saying the Syrian people are suffering sweeping human rights violations.

Adnan Bakkour - August 2011
Bakkour, the former attorney general of the central city of Hama, appeared in a video in late August 2011 announcing he had defected.

These five join a wave of Sunni Muslim soldiers who have abandoned the Syrian army, many fleeing for neighboring Turkey or joining rebel fighters on the front lines. Thousands of soldiers have been killed or imprisoned because they attempted to escape and failed, or were suspected of planning to do so.
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    Mark Snowiss

    Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

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