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Iranian dissidents killed in Iraq camp

by FP Staff  Sep 1, 2013 23:45 IST

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - At least 15 people were killed in clashes following a mortar attack on an Iranian dissident camp north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Sunday, two security sources said, but the dissident group itself put the toll far higher.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered an investigation into the violence at the camp, where the Mujahadin-e-Khalq (MEK) dissident group said 52 of its roughly 100 members there had been killed.

MEK, which the U.S. State Department removed from its list of terrorist organisations last year, said Iraqi security forces had fired the mortar bombs into the camp.

Security sources confirmed mortars had been fired, without giving their origin, and said the death toll resulted from later clashes between security forces and camp residents.

One of the sources said Iraqi security forces had opened fire on a crowd which had stormed a post at the entrance to Camp Ashraf, a site that Iraq's government wants closed down. About 50 people were wounded, the source said.

MEK said some residents were machine-gunned with their hands tied behind their backs.

The U.S. embassy in Iraq condemned "the terrible events that took place in Camp Ashraf" and the United Nations said it would send in a team from its Iraq office to carry out its own assessment.

"We further call on Iraqi authorities to act with urgency to immediately ensure medical assistance to the wounded and to secure the camp against any further violence or harm to the residents," the U.S. embassy statement said, calling for a full and independent investigation.

MALIKI ORDERS PROBE

MEK emailed photos of people it said had been shot in the head during the clashes. Men and women were shown lying on blood-covered floors. It was not possible for Reuters independently to verify the images.

"The Iraqi government stresses the need for help to deport elements of the Mujahadin-e-Khalq who are on Iraqi soil illegally but at the same time confirms its commitment to the safety of souls on its territory," Maliki's office said in a statement referring to "events" at Camp Ashraf.

It gave no further details.

MEK wants Iran's clerical leaders overthrown, and fought with former Iraqi Sunni Muslim leader Saddam Hussein's forces in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.

It has been trying to recast itself as an Iranian opposition force but is no longer welcome in Iraq under the Shi'ite Muslim-led government that came to power after U.S.-led forces invaded and toppled Saddam in 2003.

"The United Nations deplores the tragic events at Camp Ashraf today," a statement from the office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, echoing calls for a probe.

"It is the duty of the Government of Iraq to ensure the safety and security of residents," it said.

Mortar attacks on a newer MEK camp in a former military compound in western Baghdad, where authorities had relocated most Camp Ashraf MEK members, took place in February and June. At the time, MEK blamed Iran's Quds force - an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards with a special focus on foreign operations.

MEK, also known as the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran, led a guerrilla campaign against the U.S.-backed Iranian Shah during the 1970s that included attacks on U.S. targets. (Additional reporting by a Reuters reporter in Diyala, Iraq; Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Jon Boyle and David Evans)

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