“We want to be treated in a special way, because we do not have the weapons now. But nothing happened,” he said.
Maliki had tried many times to persuade the U.S. administration, he added. “They know our situation. Nothing has been done.”
Zebari made the same point in a separate interview.
“We need equipment. We need electronic surveillance. We need an air force,” Zebari said. “We need a border control system. Definitely. We don’t have it. We have only the concrete blocks that the Americans left for us, lined up along the borders.”
Iraq, he said, “doesn’t have a single jet. It has a few transport helicopters, for transport purposes, not as gunships.”
The prelude to the incident was the capture by Nusra of a border crossing that links Syria’s Hasaka province with Iraq’s Nineveh province. Troops and civilian employees manning the Syrian border post fled under fire to the Iraqi post about 500 yards away, Mousawi said. They arrived unarmed, he said.
Some of those fleeing were wounded and were given first aid. After a few days they were loaded into military vehicles to be driven to a border crossing at Walid, some 180 miles to the south.
Zebari said the Syrians had asked to be repatriated but that the Iraqi government wouldn’t turn them over to Nusra, as it would mean their immediate slaughter.
They traveled through desert on the only road that parallels the border, and “it looks like those people, the fighters, got some information that they were going to traverse this route.”
They’d laid land mines on the road and detonated them about noon Monday as the convoy passed over them, and then attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, Zebari said. He said none of the Syrian victims was armed.
The incident occurred near the town of Akashat, near some major phosphate mines, Zebari said. Akashat is about 15 miles inside Iraq but the ambush may have occurred still farther inside the country.
Mousawi pointed out that Arab tribes straddle the Iraqi-Syrian border, as do insurgent groups, and that those links may have facilitated what appears to be a serious intelligence breach. “They definitely got some information” in advance, he said.
Zebari and Mousawi acknowledged that this was the most advanced operation that insurgents have carried out in Iraq in years.
“They have become more and more sophisticated,” Zebari said, “from the war here and from the experience with other wars. This was really well-planned . . . well-informed and let us say with more destructive power.”
Hannah Allam in Washington and special correspondent Paul Raymond in Istanbul contributed to this article.