Middle East

Rocket attack kills Iranian exiles in Iraq

Five deaths reported after rockets hit camp outside Baghdad housing members of opposition MEK group.
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2013 20:20
MEK members were moved to Camp Liberty outside Baghdad last year on Iraq's insistence [EPA]

Katyusha rockets fired on a camp housing Iranian dissidents near Baghdad have killed five members of the opposition group, Iraqi security officials say.

About 40 members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) group were wounded in Saturday's attack, along with three Iraqi policemen.

MEK calls for the overthrow of Iran's leaders and fought alongside the forces of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on the transit camp, a former American military base known as Camp Liberty, adjacent to Baghdad's international airport.

"At 5:30am around 18 Katyusha rockets landed in the camp, west of Baghdad, killing five people and wounding 42," an Iraqi policeman at the base said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A spokesman for the interior ministry, however, said only one person had been killed and that reports of more deaths were "exaggerated'.

A government official told Al Jazeera that the government had no way of knowing where the rockets were fired from.

UN urges investigation

The United Nations called on Iraqi authorities to "promptly conduct an investigation" and said its monitors on the ground were following up on the deaths, the first confirmed fatalities as a result of violence at the group's new camp since they moved there last year.

Martin Kobler, the top UN official in Iraq, told Al Jazeera that he was "shocked" by the attack.

"These people have to be protected," he said.

The MEK, whose leadership is based in Paris, said in a statement that six people were killed and 50 wounded.

Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf explains the status of MEK in Iraq

The group provided amateur video and photos it said showed the aftermath of the attack. One photo showed six bodies swaddled in blankets lying on the ground in a hallway.

Amateur video showed wounded, some with blood-covered faces, being treated at a small clinic.

A spokesman for the MEK said they did not know for sure who was behind the attack, but said one likely suspect was
Iran's Quds force - an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards with a special focus on military operations outside the country.

Camp Liberty is home to more than 1,000 residents from the MEK who were moved last year, on Iraq's insistence, from their historic paramilitary camp of the 1980s - Camp Ashraf.

The MEK was founded in the 1960s to oppose the Shah of Iran, and after the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew him it took up arms against Iran's theocratic rulers.

It says it has now laid down its arms and is working to overthrow the government in Tehran through peaceful means.

It is no longer welcome in Iraq under the Shia-led government that came to power after US-led forces invaded and toppled Saddam in 2003.

Under Iraqi protection

Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said Iraq sees the MEK as a "terrorist group".

"They [MEK] say they're in danger from the Iranians and the Iraqi government," she said.

"Ultimately they're under the protection of the Iraqi government."

The UN intends to process the them for refugee status in other countries but no country has so far welcomed them.

Britain struck the group off its terror list in June 2008, followed by the European Union in 2009 and the US in September 2012.

The US state department holds the group responsible, however, for the deaths of Iranians as well as US soldiers and civilians from the 1970s into 2001.

The MEK has no support in Iran, and no connection to domestic opposition groups.


Al Jazeera and agencies
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