Al-Qaida Claims Killing of Syrian Soldiers in Iraq

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -

Al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for killing 48 Syrian soldiers and state employees in Iraq last week, saying their presence proved collusion between the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Unidentified gunmen last week attacked a convoy of Syrians who had fled across the border into Iraq from a Syrian rebel advance and were being escorted back home through the western province of Anbar.

“Military detachments succeeded in annihilating an entire column of the Safavid army,” al-Qaida’s Iraqi wing, Islamic State of Iraq, said in a statement posted online, referring to the dynasty that ruled Shi’ite Iran from the 16th to 18th centuries. Tehran is Assad’s closest regional ally.

The group said the presence of the Syrians in Iraq showed the Baghdad government’s “firm cooperation” with Assad. The Syrian leader’s Alawite faith is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

Iraq’s Defense Ministry has blamed the attack, which also killed nine Iraqi soldiers, on Syrian armed groups it said had infiltrated the country.