Gunman ambushed Syrian soldiers and other government officials on Monday as they were escorted from western Iraq to the Syrian border. Nine Iraqi soldiers along with 48 Syrians died after they came under machine gun fire when traveling to the al-Waleed border crossing in Anbar province. The Syrians reportedly had been in Iraq to receive medical treatment following a recent battle with rebel forces at the Yaarabiya-Rabia border crossing.
A local Anbar council member suggested the well coordinated attack looks similar to attacks carried out by al-Qaeda in Iraq (aQI). The Times of Israel also proposed aQI could coordinate with Syrian rebel fighters who share close religious views. The predominantly Sunni inhabited Anbar province has been a hotbed for aQI and Sunni insurgents, some of whom fight alongside Syrian rebels, according to U.S. officials. The Iraqi news publication Sumaria News, cites a military source saying the Iraqi Army’s Special Forces are executing a large-scale search operation with the help of aircraft to locate perpetrators of the raid.
An Iraqi soldier looks towards the Abu Kamal border crossing with Syria, on July 22, 2012. (Photo: AFP/File, Azhar Shallal)
Rebels continued to clash with government forces in eastern Syria; in recent days fighters had launched attacks near the Rabia border crossing with Iraq. The Free Syrian Army also seized Raqqa in northeast Syria, the first time the opposition has captured a major city. Resistance fighters have captured the governor of Raqqa, the Baath party secretary, and toppled a statue of former President Hafez al-Assad.
Spokesman for the Iraqi Prime Minister told The New York Times the attack was partly the consequence of sectarian division and inflammatory rhetoric. Analysis underscore how the Syrian conflict has destabilized the region with Sunni-Shiite tension increasing from attacks like these. Earlier in the week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned that a victory for rebels in the Syrian civil war will spark a renewed conflict in Iraq and Lebanon and stoke divisions in Jordan. Recently, Turkey requested Patriot missile batteries to shoot down missile from Syria after a cross border attack killed five civilians in 2012. Israel also reportedly bombed a convoy in Syria carrying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles toward Lebanon in January.
Editors Note: The JPC would like to thank Aymen Jawad al-Tamimi for translating the Sumaria news article, the full translation can be found in our comments section below.