x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Al Qaeda claims credit for attack on Syrian soldiers in Iraq

This month's attack that killed 48 troops threatens to entangle Iraq in Syria's civil war.

BAGHDAD // Al Qaeda's Iraqi front group claimed an attack on a convoy in west Iraq that killed 48 Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqi guards.

The soldiers had entered Iraq for medical treatment and 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.

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'," said a statement posted on jihadist forums today..

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 pro-regime militia forces.

Baghdad has consistently avoided joining calls for the departure of Mr Al Assad, whom rebels are battling to overthrow, 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 conflict.

Baghdad is caught between conflicting pressures over Syria - its powerful eastern neighbour, Iran, backs Mr Al Assad, while the United States and many Arab states want Mr Al Assad to bow to opposition demands and step down.