Rebels attacked Syrian forces Thursday on two spots along the nation's porus border with Iraq, killing 21 soldiers and seizing control of one of the four major border posts, a senior Iraqi army official said.
The assaults against Syria's government unfolded throughout the day, putting the Iraqi army on high alert to prevent any violence from spilling across the border.
"We have security concerns because the border crossing now is out of the Syria government's control, and nobody can anticipate what will happen," said Iraqi Army Brig. General Qassim al-Dulaimi.
Al-Duliami said about a half-dozen rebels stormed the Syrian border crossing near the Iraqi town of Qaim on Thursday morning. He said the rebels forced the border guards from their posts but did not cross into Iraq.
Qaim is located about 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Baghdad. Mohammed Fathi, spokesman for the governor of Iraq's western Anbar province that includes Qaim, said the border crossing had already been closed to traffic because of the civil war.
Hours later, in the remote Sinjar mountain range, al-Dulaimi said rebels attacked a Syrian army outpost near the Iraqi border, killed 20 soldiers and their commander. The rebels then seized control of the outpost, al-Duliami said.
However, local Iraqi officials said two other major border crossings remained in control of the Syrian regime. Fathi said the largest port at al-Walid, which is also located near the Jordanian border and accounts or an estimated 90 percent of traffic between Iraq and Syria — remained the regime's hands.
And an official in Iraq's northern Ninevah province said the border crossing near Rabiya was also still in Syrian government control.
The border between Iraq and Syria is 605 kilometers (363-miles) long.
Rebel fighters also took over a crossing on the Turkish border on Thursday, seizing control of the customs and immigration buildings on the Syrian side of the northern frontier, a rebel fighter and a spokesman said.
They said they overran the Bab al-Hawa gate, which the rebels have tried to seize several times in the last 10 days, after a confrontation with soldiers loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. Bab al-Hawa is a vital commercial crossing.
Footage which activists said was filmed at Bab al-Hawa showed rebels climbing onto the roofs of buildings at the crossing and tearing up a poster of President Bashar al-Assad.
"The army withdrew," a rebel fighter who would only be identified as Abu Ali told Reuters on the Turkish side of the border, where he was being treated for wounds. "The crossing is under our control - they withdrew their armored vehicles."
The reported seizure of Bab al-Hawa, opposite the Turkish Cilvegozu gate in Hatay province, comes after the rebels said they were forced to withdraw earlier on Thursday when they came under attack by military helicopters.
Ahmad Zaidan, spokesman for an opposition group called the Higher Council of the Revolution's Leadership, said rebels were already in charge of large areas around the border crossing.
The raid was also meant to provide an opportunity for opposition sympathizers among the government soldiers to defect. Most defections, he said, were pre-planned and sympathetic soldiers would know of an impending rebel attack.
The rebels had earlier attacked the army garrison, made up of some 200 troops, but had to pull back when government helicopters were called in. The rebels had planned for 80 soldiers to defect but only 14 managed to escape, Zaidan said.
The border crossing was closed after the attack and around 40 Syrian and Saudi trucks lined up on the Turkish side were unable to cross.
While cross-border trade and traffic has been greatly reduced as violence inside Syria has increased, border gates along the 910-km (560-mile) Turkey-Syria border have largely remained open and vehicles have been free to cross.
The border raid came as rebels clashed with troops loyal to Assad in Damascus and a day after a bomb attack on a security meeting in the Syrian capital killed three of the president's closest allies.
Turkey, which has called on Assad to step down, is giving sanctuary to opposition members and fighters on its soil and is providing shelter to more than 40,000 Syrian refugees fleeing violence at home.
© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.