40 fleeing Syrian soldiers killed in Iraq
Unidentified gunmen killed at least 40 Syrian soldiers and government employees in Iraq yesterday as they headed home after fleeing a Syrian rebel advance last week, Iraqi officials have said.
About 65 Syrian soldiers and officials had handed themselves over to Iraqi authorities on Friday after rebels seized the Syrian side of the border crossing at the Syrian frontier town of Yaarabiya.
Iraqi authorities were taking them to another border crossing further south in Iraq’s Sunni Muslim stronghold, Anbar province, when gunmen ambushed their convoy, a senior Iraqi official said.
“The incident took place in Akashat when the convoy carrying the Syrian soldiers and employees was on its way to the al-Waleed border crossing,” a senior Iraqi official said. “Gunmen set up an ambush and killed 40 of them, plus some Iraqi soldiers who were protecting the convoy.
Hikmat Suleiman Ayade of Anbar’s provincial council put the number of people killed at 61, including 14 Iraqis who were protecting the convoy. About a dozen others were being treated in hospital for their wounds, he said.
The ambush inside Iraq illustrates how Syria’s almost two-year-old conflict, with its sectarian overtones, has the potential to spill over its borders and drag in neighbouring countries, further destabilising an already volatile region.
Iraq’s Anbar province is experiencing renewed demonstrations by Sunnis against the government of Shia prime minister Nuri al-Maliki over what they see as the marginalisation of their minority and misuse of terrorism laws against them.
Syria’s rebels are mostly Sunnis fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s government, dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam.