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Syrian Soldiers Killed In Iraq: Reports

At least 40 Syrian soldiers and government employees who fled the fighting in the country to western Iraq have been killed in an ambush staged by unidentified gunmen, media reports citing Iraqi officials said Monday.

According to local media reports, the incident happened in Iraq's western Anbar province, with officials quoted as saying that the victims were members of a group that had entered Iraq through the Yaarubiyeh border in the northern Nineveh province over the weekend.

The group was reportedly ambushed when they were being taken to the al-Waleed border crossing in Anbar by Iraqi soldiers for sending them back to Syria. It is understood that several Iraqis, including security personnel, were killed in the ambush for which no group has yet claimed responsibility.

Iraq's Anbar province is dominated by Sunni Muslims, who have been long accusing the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government in Baghdad of attempting to marginalize them. In recent months, the province witnessed the formation of Free Iraqi Army, which openly supports the armed rebellion by fellow Sunnis against the Shiite-dominated government in neighboring Syria.

An estimated 70,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the armed rebellion against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad broke out in Syria in March 2011. The civil war has forced some 900,000 Syrians to seek refuge in neighboring countries, with millions more displaced internally.

The conflict is now threatening to spill over to neighboring nations and increasingly becoming sectarian in nature. International efforts at finding a solution to the crisis have been hampered by a deep divide in the U.N. Security Council, with Russia and China backing the Assad regime and the West opposing it.

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