The soldiers, who were wounded and received treatment in Iraq, 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 defense ministry.
“Military detachments succeeded in annihilating an entire column of the Safavid army,” al Qaeda’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 lions of the desert and the men entrusted with difficult missions laid ambushes on the road leading to the crossing,” it said.
The group said the presence of the Syrians in Iraq showed the Baghdad government’s “firm co-operation” with Assad. The Syrian leader’s Alawite faith is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.
Iraq’s Defence Ministry has blamed the attack, which also killed nine Iraqi soldiers, on Syrian armed groups it said had infiltrated the country.
In a related development, a suicide attacker drove his explosives-laden car on Monday into a police station in northern Iraq, killing five people, while attacks elsewhere in the country killed six more Iraqis, officials said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks but suicide bombings and well-coordinate assassinations are a hallmark of al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch.
Violence has ebbed across Iraq since the peak of the fighting in the last decade, but deadly bombings and shootings still occur almost daily.