Iraq raids camp of Iranian opposition group U.S. protected

BAGHDAD — Iraqi authorities raided the camp of a small Iranian opposition group living in the north of Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least four of the group's members in a spate of clashes that ensued, members of the group said.

At Camp Ashraf in the northern province of Diyala, about 3,400 members of the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq group went on a hunger strike following what they called a "brutal" raid that targeted unarmed members of their organization.

Since the U.S. handed control of the camp to Iraqi authorities on Jan.1, Iraq has increased efforts to push the group out. U.S. officials were promised that the cult-like MEK organization on the U.S. list of terror groups would be treated "humanely" under Iraqi authority.

An Iraqi security official in Diyala told McClatchy that on government orders, security forces from the Ministry of Interior and riot police entered the camp Tuesday afternoon using bulldozers to tear down the walls.

Members of the group responded with large knives and "toxic bombs" to fight back, he said. The MEK, which fought the Iranian regime from Iraqi soil under Saddam Hussein, is said to have been disarmed by U.S. forces after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The group was never forced to leave and had been protected by the U.S. forces until this year. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media

The MEK described a very different scene than the Iraqi official did. Security forces rushed into the camp, shot innocent, unarmed civilians and took at least 28 people into custody, a statement from the MEK said. At least 300 people were wounded, it said.

The MEK is lobbying to remain in the self-sustained camp north of Baghdad and fear returning to Iran, where members say they'd be killed. Iraq has made it clear that they don't have to go to Iran, but they can't stay in Iraq. The Iraqi government has stopped most goods from entering the camp and Tuesday's raid was the largest escalation against the group.

About 50 people inside of the camp are wanted by the Iranian government, but it was unclear if the 28 people taken were among them. The MEK has also been linked to the assassinations of U.S. military personnel in Iran in the 1970s and helping Saddam quash Kurdish and Shiite uprisings.

"We continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure the residents of Camp Ashraf are treated in accordance with Iraq's written assurance that it will treat them humanely," said Ian Kelly, a State Department spokesman.

(Hammoudi, a McClatchy special correspondent, reported from Baghdad. Fadel reported from Washington. Warren P. Strobel contributed to this article.)


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Read what McClatchy's Iraqi staff has to say at Inside Iraq