48 Syrian, 9 Iraqi soldiers killed in western Iraq ambush
The fighting in Syria is beginning to spill over into western Iraq. Earlier today, 48 Syrian and nine Iraqi soldiers were killed in an ambush in Iraq's western province of Anbar. From Al Jazeera:
The soldiers crossed into Iraq from the Yaarabiya border crossing, the scene of heavy fighting on Saturday between rebels and troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, said Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Khalaf al-Dulaimi of the border protection forces on Monday.
Ali Mussawi, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's spokesman, said the ambush "confirms our fears of the attempt of some to move the conflict to Iraq, but we will face these attempts by all sides with all of our power".
The defence ministry said in an online statement that the ambush was carried out "by a terrorist group that infiltrated into Iraqi territory coming from Syria," and put the death toll at 48 Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqi guards.
It said a number of unarmed Syrian soldiers wounded in fighting 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".
Just five days ago, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki warned that the civil war in Syria may spill over into Iraq and Jordan.
As the Iraqi Defense Ministry notes, the attack was very likely executed by al Qaeda in Iraq, or the Al Nusrah Front. But then again, that is a distinction without a difference, as the Al Nusrah Front is an extension of al Qaeda in Iraq. According to the US State Department, the Al Nusrah Front, which fights in Syria, receives orders directly from Abu Du'a (or Abu Bakr al Baghdadi), the emir of al Qaeda in Iraq's Islamic State of Iraq.
As an aside, President Obama's decision to withdraw all US forces from Iraq at the end of 2011 is having serious repercussions for the security situation in the heart of the Middle East. Not only did al Qaeda in Iraq gain the time and space to regroup and rebuild, it was able to establish a potent fighting force inside Syria. Without military forces in country, the US has been unable to support the Iraqi government in a counterterrorism campaign against al Qaeda in Iraq. And the US lost its access to the Sunni tribes in Anbar and other provinces. The access to the tribes could have been key in fighting al Qaeda in Iraq and could have given the US a foothold inside Syria as well (the tribes in western Iraq extend into Syria).