- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2011

BAGHDAD | Thirty-four Iranian exiles were killed when Iraqi soldiers stormed Camp Ashraf last week, a U.N. spokesman said Thursday in the first independent death toll of the raid that has drawn sharp rebukes from Baghdad’s Western allies.

U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville in Geneva said a team of U.N. 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 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,” Mr. Colville said, adding that women were among the dead.

He said six bodies still have not been found.

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 Shiite-led government that is trying to bolster ties with Tehran.

After Saddam fell, U.S. troops took control of Camp Ashraf, disarmed its fighters and confined the residents to their 30-square-mile camp. In return, the military signed the 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 U.S. 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 U.N. 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 U.N.’s human rights 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 U.S. 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.

Until the U.N. visit, the only official casualty count 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.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh did not immediately respond Thursday to the U.N. findings.

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