Al Qaeda claims killing of 48 Syrian soldiers in Iraq
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The al Qaeda-affiliated group Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility on Monday for a March 4 attack on a convoy in Iraq's western province of Anbar that killed 48 Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqi guards.
Al-Qaeda front group the Islamic State of Iraq claimed an attack on a convoy in west Iraq that killed 48 Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqi guards, in a statement posted on jihadist forums on Monday.
The soldiers, who were wounded and received treatment in Iraq, were being transported through the western province of Anbar on their way back to Syria when the attack took place on March 4, according to the Iraqi defence ministry.
But the ministry blamed the attack on a "terrorist group that infiltrated into Iraqi territory coming from Syria."
The statement on jihadist forums said that Islamic State of Iraq fighters were able to destroy a column of "the Safavid army with its associated vehicles" carrying "members of the Nusairi army and Syrian regime 'shabiha.'"
Safavid is a word implying Shiites are under Iranian control, while Nusairi is a derogatory term for Alawites, the sect to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs, and shabiha is a name used for Syrian pro-regime militia forces.
Baghdad has consistently avoided joining calls for the departure of Assad, against whom rebels are battling, instead saying it opposes arming either side and urging an end to the violence that has ravaged Syria for the past two years, leaving at least 70,000 people dead.
But the deadly ambush in its territory threatens to entangle Iraq in the Syrian conflict.
Baghdad is caught between conflicting pressures over Syria -- its powerful eastern neighbour, Shiite Iran, backs Assad's regime, while the United States and many Arab states want the Syrian president to bow to opposition demands and step down.
The March 4 ambush was not, however, the first time the conflict has crossed the border into Iraq.
Fire from Syria killed an Iraqi soldier in the country's north on March 2 and a young girl in western Iraq in September.
US officials have also repeatedly called on Iraq to stop allowing overflights by Iranian planes that Washington says are being used to transport weapons to Assad's forces.
On March 3, the Syrian National Council, a key opposition group, alleged that Iraq "gave political and intelligence support to the Syrian regime."
And like other countries bordering Syria, Iraq has seen the arrival of a flood of refugees fleeing the conflict -- more than 109,000, according to the United Nations, most of whom are located in northern and western Iraq.