|The UN says it will be conducting further investigations into the raid on Camp Ashraf [Reuters]|
Thirty-four Iranian exiles were killed when Iraqi soldiers stormed Camp Ashraf last week, a UN spokesman has revealed.
The fatality count is the first independent death toll of the raid that has drawn sharp rebukes from Baghdad’s Western allies.
UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville in Geneva said on Thursday that a team of UN observers saw 28 bodies still at the camp during a Wednesday visit to the exiles’ compound in eastern Diyala province.
“Most of the bodies appeared to have been shot,” he said.
Three of the bodies also appeared to have been crushed to death, likely from being run over by a car, a Western diplomat in Baghdad said.
“It’s clearly a very serious incident and we are trying to get more information,” Colville said.
Colville added that women were among the dead and that they were still searching for six more bodies.
The raid targeted the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, which seeks to overthrow Iran’s clerical leaders.
The group won refuge at Camp Ashraf years ago during the regime of Saddam Hussein, who saw them as a
convenient ally against Iran.
But since then, the exiles have been an irritant to Iraq’s new Shia-led government that is trying to bolster ties with Tehran.
After Saddam fell, US troops took control of Camp Ashraf, disarmed its fighters and confined the residents to the camp.
In return, the military signed an agreement with the camp’s residents giving them protected status under the Geneva Conventions.
But it’s not clear whether the residents still have those legal protections.
Both Iran and the US consider the group to be a terrorist threat, although the European Union removed the People’s Mujahedeen from its own terror list several years ago.
The raid was sharply criticized by Iraqi allies in Washington, London and Geneva, although it was praised by Iran.
Wednesday’s UN visit was critical because the Ashraf residents and the Iraqi government have issued wildly different accounts of the raid and the reasons behind it.
The visit to Camp Ashraf came five days after the agency first demanded to be allowed in.
The Iraqi army and police have blocked access to the camp for more than a year, following a similar raid in July 2009. A US Army medical team also entered the camp last weekend to provide humanitarian aid but has refused comment on what it looked like inside.
Journalists have not been allowed in.
Independent death toll
Until the UN visit, the only official casualty count in the raid came from the morgue at Baqouba public hospital, where officials said they received 12 bodies from the camp.
Ashraf resident Shahriar Kia said the 12 bodies at the morgue are likely among about 50 camp residents who died after they were taken to the hospital hours after the raid.
Kia demanded that the UN publicly release its findings of what they saw, “and do not allow the Iraqi government and the religious fascism ruling in Iran to misuse the public unawareness in order to continue their crimes against Ashraf residents.”
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh did not immediately respond Thursday to the UN findings.
Earlier this week, he said the Iraqi government voted to help move the Ashraf residents outside the country by the end of the year.
Al-Dabbagh did issue a statement on Thursday that welcomed what it described as US support to the government’s efforts to find “another option for Ashraf camp residents to live in rather than Iraq.”
The Ashraf residents maintained from the start that 34 people were killed and as many as 325 wounded when Iraqi army units broke through the camp gate and began firing into the crowd of people who had rushed outside to protect their homes.