UN says 34 killed at Iranian exiles camp in Iraq
New York: At least 34 people, including several women, were killed and dozens wounded at an Iranian exiles' camp raided by the Iraqi military last week, the United Nations said on Thursday.
A top US official called the Iraqi assault on Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, a "massacre" and demanded a thorough government investigation.
The toll was released a day after UN observers visited Camp Ashraf, which the Iraqi government has demanded be closed by the end of the year.
"We are aware of 34 bodies at Camp Ashraf and nearby," deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq said. The victims included women and most were shot, according to UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville in Geneva. He added that dozens more were wounded.
The People's Mujahedeen of Iran, which runs the camp, said that 300 people had been wounded in the assault last Friday and that there had been more attacks since.
Iraqi security forces raided the camp as tensions between the opponents of Iran's clerical regime and the Iraqi authorities reached a new height.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh denied the military carried out the killings and said authorities would hold their own investigation.
"Our security forces believe that the dead were killed by their own guards because they were trying to escape," Dabbagh said. "They had already committed similar acts in the past."
Just after the raid, the Iraqi military said it had been a confrontation with stone-throwing camp residents in which three people were killed.
More than 3,000 men, women and children live at Camp Ashraf which late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein set up in the 1980s to act as a base against Iran when the two neighbours were at war.
The left-wing People's Mujahedeen was founded in 1965 to oppose the shah of Iran but after the Islamic revolution in 1979 took up arms against the clerical regime.
Camp Ashraf was disarmed following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has become a mounting problem for Iraqi authorities since US forces handed over security for the camp last year.
The People's Mujahedeen is on the US government terrorist list, but US Senate foreign affairs committee chairman John Kerry called the Iraqi military action "simply unacceptable”.
Kerry demanded a halt to military action around the camp and said the Iraqi government investigation "into the massacre ... must be thorough and serious”.
Following up the raid, the Iraqi government said on Monday that the People's Mujahedeen must leave the country by the end of the year. Iran strongly welcomed that announcement.
The government said that it would work with other governments and the United Nations to get the militants out of the country.
The United States said on Tuesday it was ready to help Iraq with a negotiated plan that could allow the Iranian dissidents to move to a third country. Iraqi diplomats say they hope European countries will offer to take the Ashraf residents.
Kerry called on the United States to "redouble efforts" with the Iraqi government, United Nations, European Union, and People's Mujahedeen to find permanent homes for the camp residents.
In his reaction to the toll, Dabbagh welcomed the US interest in efforts to move the Camp Ashraf people. "The Iraqi government will provide any logistical support it can to facilitate the desires of Camp Ashraf residents wanting to leave Iraq."