Clashes between Iraqi border police and gunmen who crossed from Syria into western Iraq killed a policeman and wounded five on Saturday, an officer said.
The gunmen traveling in five four-wheel-drive vehicles crossed into Iraq’s Anbar Province about 10km from the Al-Waleed border crossing with Syria, Major Shihab Taha of the Iraqi Border Police said.
Clashes broke out between the gunmen and the border police inside Iraq, killing one policeman and wounding five, Taha said, putting the number of gunmen killed at two.
However, the toll could not be confirmed with the gunmen taking the bodies with them when they returned to Syria.
Iraq has sought to publicly avoid taking sides in the civil war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and rebels seeking his ouster, but the conflict has spilled over the border on several occasions.
Last month, a border guards officer said Syrian rebels had opened fire on two Iraqi border posts, killing a guard and wounding two.
In March, armed men ambushed a convoy carrying Syrian soldiers who had entered Iraq for medical treatment on their way back to their home country, killing 48 Syrians and nine Iraqi guards, the Iraqi Ministry of the Defense said.
The day before that, an Iraqi soldier was killed and three people including a soldier wounded inside northern Iraq by fire exchanged between regime forces and rebels in Syria.
The US has also repeatedly called on Iraq to stop flights allegedly carrying arms from Iran to the Syrian regime.
Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari said in an interview published on Saturday that Iraq did not have the means to prevent any arms transfers.
“Last September we started to inspect Iranian and Syrian planes at random. We have found non-lethal materials, like equipment, medicine and food,” Zebari told the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. “In all honesty, those planes might be carrying other stuff, but we have neither the deterrent means, nor the air defenses and fighter jets to prevent ... arms shipments.”
In Syria, Western-backed opposition fighters and a faction of al-Qaeda-linked rebels turned their guns on each other on Saturday in Aleppo, battling for control of a key checkpoint in the latest eruption of infighting among the forces trying to topple al-Assad’s regime, activists said.
The clashes between rebels affiliated with the Free Syrian Army and fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant underscored the growing phenomenon of rebel-on-rebel violence that has sapped strength from the broader anti-al-Assad movement.
It also underscores the rebels’ inability to unite around a unified command, as well as the deepening rift between more secular opposition fighters and Islamic extremists in the rebel ranks.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday’s clashes were focused on the strategic checkpoint in Aleppo’s Bustan al-Qasr District — the sole gateway between rebel-held eastern districts and the government-controlled areas in the west.
The fighting between moderate and jihadist groups that have for months battled al-Assad’s regime together have become more frequent in recent weeks. The clashes have largely focused on border crossings with Turkey and vital installations, like bakeries and water wells in the north, the Observatory said.
Another activist said the fighting is aimed at establishing control over the flow of food and aid to the residents. Each group is also trying to set up governing structures over the territory in the north the opposition has controlled for a year and take a cut of money from goods being smuggled into Syria over the border with Turkey.