A “terrorist group” from Syria carried out a deadly ambush in western Iraq on Monday that killed 48 Syrian soldiers being transferred to the border and nine Iraqi guards, the defense ministry said.
The ambush was carried out “by a terrorist group that infiltrated into Iraqi territory coming from Syria,” the ministry said on its website.
It said a number of unarmed and wounded Syrian soldiers had fled to Iraq for medical treatment and were being transferred to al-Walid border crossing to be returned to Syria through “official channels.”
But they were ambushed on the way, in what the ministry termed “an attack against the sovereignty of Iraq, its land, and its dignity, and a clear violation of human rights, as the soldiers were wounded and unarmed.”
The ministry also issued a warning to all sides in the Syria conflict “against moving their armed conflict to Iraqi territory and violating Iraq’s borders.”
The group of Syrian soldiers and government employees had entered Iraq through the Yaarubiyeh border in the northern Nineveh province over the weekend, as anti-government rebels launched an attack on the area.
Meanwhile, a senior Iraqi official told Reuters that the soldiers were being taken to the al-Waleed border crossing further south in Anbar when they were ambushed at Akashat.
“Gunmen set up an ambush and killed 40 of them, plus some Iraqi soldiers who were protecting the convoy,” he added.
“They appeared to have been well-prepared for the assault, having with them roadside bombs, automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades,” officials said.
Iraq and Syria share a 600km border, and the government in Baghdad has often expressed concern that the violence in Syria could spill over into its own territory.
A spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister told AFP news agency that the attack in Anbar “confirms our fears of the attempt of some to move the conflict to Iraq”, but, he added, “we will face these attempts by all sides with all of our power”.