Nawaf Fares, Syria's ambassador to Iraq, has defected to the opposition and is now urging the army to turn its guns on President Basahr al-Assad's regime. The move, which constitutes the most senior diplomatic defection thus far, already has Syria trying to save face in a sort of comical display of employer-employee relations: This isn't a defection—this is a firing! In a statement reported by Syria's state news agency today, the foreign ministry says Fares has been "relieved of his duties" and will face "legal and disciplinary accountability," according to The Associated Press' Ben Hubbard. That's probably easier said than done given that Reuters now reports that Fares is currently in Qatar after leaving the Baghdad embassy Wednesday "without permission" according to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. "The Syrian ambassador Nawaf al-Fares, who announced his defection from his regime, has left Baghdad and is now in Qatar," Zebari said on state-run Iraqi television. 

Confirming reports of his defection, Fares aired this message on Al Jazeera TV on Wednesday night. "I announce my defection from my post as representative of the Arab Syrian Republic in Iraq and my withdrawal from the ranks of the (ruling) Baath party," he said. "I call on all free and worthy people in Syria, particularly in the military, to immediately rejoin the ranks of the revolution. Turn your cannons and your tanks towards the criminals in the regime who are killing the people."


The last high-level defection came from a commander of an elite Republican Guard unit, Gen. Manaf Tlass last month—though opposition enthusiasm for his defection has dampened in recent days as the general has failed to surface, The New York Times' Dan Bilefsky and Maïa de la Baume reported Wednesday. Regardless, Fares' defection comes at a key time for Syria, as United Nations envoy Kofi Annan announced yesterday that Assad is now discussing the possibility for forming a transitional government, The AP reported:

In his closed-door briefing, Annan said he and Assad exchanged views on "how a political transition could be negotiated and unfold -- which, I indicated, I believe should be able to be completed within six months to a year," according to a transcript posted on un-report.blogspot.com and confirmed by a U.N. diplomat.

You can bet U.N. diplomats are hoping these kinds of high-level defections will spur Assad to step aside and make way for a transitional government.