Baghdad: Iran`s top diplomat on Saturday praised Iraqi authorities for launching a deadly raid on a camp of Iranian exiles considered terrorists by Tehran.
Iran`s lone voice of support against a chorus of international criticism of the crackdown was another sign of the closer ties between the neighbouring countries since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, who started the 1980-88 war between the two nations.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the Iraqi Army was right to storm Camp Ashraf, located about 60 miles (95 kilometres) northeast of Baghdad. The sprawling desert settlement is home to about 3,400 members of the People`s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran, which seeks to overthrow Iran`s leaders and is considered a terrorist group by Tehran.
Iraqi Army forces stormed the camp before dawn on Friday after the exiles provoked soldiers.
"Under the Iraqi Constitution, no terrorist group can use the Iraqi soil as a base to operate against neighbouring countries," Salehi told a press conference in Tehran.
Therefore, he said the raid was legally necessary, and "needs to be praised”.
The death toll in the assault rose on Saturday to 12, according to two hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to release the information. They said 39 people were treated for wounds.
Ashraf spokesman Shahin Gobadi gave higher casualty figures. He said 33 people were killed and 325 wounded, although there was no way to independently verify the numbers because Iraqi security forces have blocked journalists from the camp.
The raid was roundly condemned by UN, US, and British officials who urged the Iraqi government to ease up against the exiles, who are considered political refugees by the international community.
The Obama administration is "deeply troubled”, State Department deputy spokesman Mark C Toner said in a statement.
"We absolutely deplore such loss of life and injury," said British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt in a statement.
"We condemn all acts of violence perpetrated against the residents of Ashraf, and call on the government of Iraq to immediately reaffirm and meet its obligations to ensure their safety and well-being," said a joint statement by two US House lawmakers, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, and California Democrat Howard L Berman.
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International demanded that the Iraqi government investigate the raid.
The exiles originally were given refuge in Iraq by former dictator Saddam Hussein, an enemy of Iran. The group has jeered Iraq`s Shi’ite leaders — and specifically Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — who followed Saddam, calling them puppets of Shi’ite power Iran.
US forces were stationed near Ashraf during the raid but had no legal authority to intervene under a 2008 security agreement between Washington and Baghdad.