BAGHDAD (AP) — Gunmen in Iraq killed three Syrian truck drivers Sunday morning on a main highway linking Baghdad to Syria and Jordan, police officials said.
They said the gunmen stopped the trucks near the remote western town of Rutba, then killed the drivers and burned their vehicles.
Iraqi security forces are struggling to contain the country's most relentless round of violence since the 2011 U.S. military withdrawal. The bloodshed, fueled by rising sectarian divisions, escalated sharply after a deadly crackdown by security forces on a Sunni protest camp in April.
Iraq's Sunnis have been staging protests for months against the Shiite-led government over policies they feel have left them marginalized and unfairly treated since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The gunmen Sunday also kidnapped four Iraqis in the same area, according to the police.
A medical official in Rutba hospital confirmed receiving the three bodies. All officials spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to talk to the media.
The deputy governor of Anbar province, Dhari Arkan, blamed security forces guarding the highway for failing to protect motorists despite many checkpoints and units deployed along the highway.
"Once again, we are seeing shameful performance and negligence by members of the security forces, who are after salaries, not securing the country," Arkan told the Associated Press in a phone interview.
Last month, gunmen kidnapped eight Iraqi policemen on the same highway.
In March, dozens of Syrian soldiers who had crossed into Iraq for refuge were ambushed with explosives, gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades in Iraq's western desert. The attackers killed 51 of the soldiers, heightening concerns that the country was being drawn into Syria's civil war.
Both Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites have taken sides in Syria's civil war, which pits mostly Sunni rebels against a regime dominated by a Shiite offshoot sect.