Iraq forces raid Iranian dissidents' camp

At least 25 killed and scores wounded at Camp Ashraf, prompting calls for restraint from visiting US defence secretary.

    An Iraqi medical source at nearby Baquba hospital said they had received bodies of three Iranians [Reuters]

    Iraqi security forces have clashed with residents of an Iranian dissident camp north of Baghdad overnight, killing dozens of them, representatives of the camp say.

    They said at least 25 residents were killed and 320 others wounded in Friday's attack in Diyala province, about 90km northeast of Baghdad in a remote location largely inaccessible to journalists.

    Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, said five members of the Iraqi security forces were wounded in the incident at Camp Ashraf, which representatives of the camp called a "criminal attack".

    The spokesman did not give any casualty figures but confirmed injuries sustained by security forces.

    Al-Dabbagh said the camp residents threw rocks at security forces in a "riot", and claimed that troops had not opened fire as had been alleged by camp residents.

    "The security forces have pushed back residents of Camp Ashraf inside the camp by force," he said.

    "The situation is now controlled. I do not have any information about any deaths or injuries among the residents of the camp."

    A medical source at nearby Baquba hospital said they had received bodies of three Iranians and that 16 other Iranians, five Iraqi soldiers and one Iraqi policeman were brought to the hospital with injuries.

    The source requested anonymity since he was not authorised to speak to the media.

    The camp, which has existed for 25 years, is home to some 3,500 people and serves as the base of the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), a guerrilla group that opposes Iran's Shia Muslim rulers.

    Iran and Iraq along with the US consider the PMOI a "terrorist" organisation.

    The National Council of Resistance of Iran, the PMOI's political wing, said Iraqi security forces had been ordered by Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister, to attack the camp.
    "Al-Maliki, under orders of [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei, has commenced an unprecedented murder in Ashraf," the group said in a statement.

    "Forces under his command used Colts, automatic weapons and machineguns installed on armoured vehicles to open fire on residents."

    US could extend presence

    Ashraf has been a sore point for the US, Iraq and Iran for years. The PMOI began as a group of Islamist leftists opposed to Iran's late Shah but fell out with the Shia Muslim religious leaders who took power after the 1979 revolution.

    The raid in Diyala happened as Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, was visiting Iraq and urging the Iraqi authorities to exercise restraint.
    "We're very concerned with reports of deaths and injuries resulting from this morning's clashes," he said.

    "I urge the Iraqi government to show restraint and to live up to its commitments to treat residents of Ashraf according to Iraqi law and their international obligations."

    Iraqi's former leader, Saddam Hussein, who was a Sunni, gave the PMOI shelter in Iraq and some of the group's fighters fought with him against Iran in the 1980s.

    Gates also said the US could extend its troop presence in the country beyond the scheduled 2011 pullout.

    If Iraq wants US troops to remain, he said, a deal could be negotiated for the long term or for as little as two or three years.

    In remarks to US troops at Camp Marez, Gates said that in his talks with a full range of senior Iraqi officials they had indicated an interest in an extended US troop presence.

    "We're open to that," he said. "It obviously would be a presence that's a fraction of the size that we have here now."

    He mentioned no numbers, but there are currently about 47,000 US troops in the country.

    US troops are scheduled to be out of Iraq by the end of this year under a deal negotiated in 2008 by George Bush, the former president, but Gates's comments now make an extension of their stay increasingly likely.

    Al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials have been making repeated public statements that US troops are not needed any longer.

    As Gates' visit went on, an estimated 10,000 demonstrators turned out in Baghdad's largest Sunni neighbourhoods to protest againts the US military presence in Iraq.

    The crowd near the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad's northeast Azamiyah area hoisted banners decrying Saddam's overthrow and American troops as "occupiers".

    "Destruction and barbarism is the approach of the American forces," read one protest banner. "The people want the departure of the occupier," read another.   

    SOURCE: Agencies


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