At least 48 Syrian soldiers and eight Iraqis died on Monday when they were ambushed inside Iraq, The Associated Press reports.
The circumstances suggest a blurred border between the countries and a decision by Iraq's Shiite government to support the Shiite regime of Bashar al-Assad. The attack occurred after the Syrians crossed into Iraq for refuge when rebels seized the al-Yaroubiyah border crossing point in Iraq's northern province of Nineveh on Saturday.
On Saturday an Al-Arabiya correspondent reported that Iraqi forces opened fire across the Syrian border for the first time, shelling opposition positions near the crossing (called Rabia in Iraq) while snipers took up positions on buildings. (There were reports of shelling on Monday as well.)
The correspondent added that large reinforcements were being deployed by the Maliki government in Baghdad near the Syrian borders.
“If this goes on, [Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal] al-Maliki’s government is aligning itself with Iran and the Assad regime against the rest of the Middle East and the will of the Syrian people,” told AP. “ That is a huge gamble."
Iraqi forces closed the border crossing on Sunday and were accompanying the Syrian convoy back to Syria through the al-Waleed border crossing in the southern Anbar province when the ambush — a highly-coordinated assault involving bombs, gunfire, and rocket-propelled grenades — took place.
Iraqi officials blame al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) — the Sunni militant group that has sent veteran fighters and financing to the radical Sunni rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra — which would suggest a lot of communication between AQI and rebels if true.
“In that region, the tribes go right across the Syrian border, and most of the people are related by blood,” Syria expert Joshua Landis told The New York Times. “They’re in one common struggle.”
Last week al-Maliki told the AP that "the most dangerous thing" would be a rebel military victory because it would lead to " a civil war in Lebanon, divisions in Jordan and a sectarian war in Iraq. "
We noted that Maliki's stark words may have been part of an attempt to protect the Shiite Crescent i.e. the geographical link between Shiites in power from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.