A massive ambush was reported in the Iraqi town of Akashat today, when a convoy of Iraqi soldiers carrying 48 Syrian soldiers who fled fighting along the border was attacked, killing all 48 of the Syrians and 9 of the Iraqis.
Iraqi officials had reported that 65 Syrian soldiers and government workers, many of them wounded, fled across the border crossing into Rabia on Friday. The border was seized by Syrian rebels and closed by the Iraqi military over the weekend.
They were taken to local hospitals and treated, and were going to be returned to Syria by way of the al-Walid border crossing, further south, which is still under Syrian government control. So far no group has claimed responsibility for the ambush.
The rebel Syrian National Council had publicly slammed Iraq for allowing troops into the country to receive medical treatment, insisting it was a violation of Syrian “territorial sovereignty” to treat the wounded in Iraq. Virtually all of Syria’s neighbors, including long-standing enemy Israel, have accepted wounded fighters for treatment, so it would be much more shocking if Iraq had refused them treatment.
The situation is a difficult one for Iraq, however, as the Syrian war is overwhelmingly sectarian in nature and the border region is home to Iraq’s Sunni minority, more naturally aligned with the Syrian rebels. Public protests among Iraq’s Sunni Arabs have been ongoing for months as part of an internal political dispute, and militant factions in Iraq have been trying to exploit that fact in fueling a new insurgency.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has promised to deploy more troops in Anbar Province after the ambush, accusing both Iraq and Syrian armed factions of taking part in the attack. This deployment could add to tensions with the protesters, however, whose grievances have included Maliki’s use of the military to centralize power and move against political rivals.