BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's prime minister warned Saturday that weapons and fighters flowing into Syria are now making their way to Iraq, as a rising tide of violence sweeps across the country.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that weapons provided by some countries to the Syrian rebels and foreign fighters attempting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, are now ending up in Iraq.
"The weapons provided to those killers in Syria have been smuggled to Iraq and those wolves that came from different countries to Syria are now sneaking into Iraq," he said during a youth gathering.
Al-Maliki said that this movement of weapons and fighters is adding to the violence hitting his country.
Iraq officially remains neutral in the Syrian conflict. The Shiite-led government in Baghdad has repeatedly called for a peaceful, political solution to the crisis, though it has also warned that a victory for the rebels would unleash sectarian war in Iraq and Lebanon.
The long and porous Iraqi-Syrian border runs along Iraq's Sunni-dominated provinces of Anbar and Ninevah, and was a key conduit for arms and al-Qaida fighters in the years following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Centuries-old cultural and tribal affiliations span the loosely defended desert frontier.
Iraqi border guards frequently clash with militants and smugglers who are attempting to move across the borders.
In Saturday's violence, gunmen opened fire on an army checkpoint just south of Baghdad, killing four soldiers and wounding four others.
In an attack on a checkpoint near Muqdadiyah, a town 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Baghdad, three soldiers were killed and one was wounded, police said.
In the city of Tikrit, 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of the Iraqi capital, gunmen opened fire on an army checkpoint, killing two soldiers, police said.
Also, a car bomb exploded in the southern port city of Um Qasr, said Anmar al-Safi, the media official at the port. He added that the explosion caused no casualties.
Medical hospital officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.
The killings were the latest in a surge of violence across the country since a deadly crackdown by government forces on a Sunni protest camp in April. More than 3,000 people have been killed in violence during the past few months, raising fears that Iraq could see a new round of widespread sectarian bloodshed similar to that which brought the country to the edge of civil war in 2006 and 2007.
In other violence reported by police officials on Saturday, attackers detonated explosives late Friday on a key oil pipeline linking Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan near the northern town of al-Shura, disrupting crude oil exports.
Teams have started work to repair the damaged pipeline, the police said.