Iraqi security forces carried out a “massacre” of 52 unarmed Iranian dissidents early Sunday at their camp north of Baghdad, the Iranian exiles said.
The assault on Camp Ashraf began at 5 a.m. and lasted until late afternoon. Iraqi troops tied the dissidents’ hands behind their backs and shot them in the head, said a camp resident who requested anonymity out of concern for his safety.
Iraqi officials acknowledged the deaths but blamed them on infighting among the camp’s 100 residents. The U.S. Embassy in Iraq strongly condemned the “terrible events” at Camp Ashraf.
Saddam Hussein allowed the Iranian exiles, members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK), to set up their paramilitary base at Camp Ashraf in the 1980s. The dissidents oppose Iran’s theocratic regime.
After the Iraqi dictator was overthrown in a U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the U.S. military disarmed the dissidents, who had renounced violence in 2001. The State Department removed the MeK from its list of terrorist groups a year ago.
Nearly 3,000 of Camp Ashraf’s residents have been relocated to Camp Liberty, near Baghdad’s international airport, under a United Nations-brokered deal that seeks to resettle the Iranians abroad. A total of 162 MeK members have been resettled abroad so far, mostly in Albania.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite whose government has grown close to Iran’s, wants the Iranian dissidents out of his country.
While most of the Iranian exiles were relocated to Camp Liberty, about 100 remained at Camp Ashraf to look after their property.
On Sunday, Iraqi special forces “killed them one by one” and set fire to buildings inside the camp, the source at Camp Ashraf said. He put the death toll at 52 and said seven others are missing. Six of the missing are women.
Shahin Gobadi, a Paris-based spokesman for the MeK, also known as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, also said 52 people had been killed.
Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Mr. al-Maliki, confirmed that some camp residents had been killed. He said a preliminary investigation suggested they died as a result of infighting among camp residents, and he denied that Iraqi forces were involved, according to The Associated Press.
The U.N. condemned the attack and called on the Iraqi government to investigate the incident and determine who was responsible.
“The priority for the Iraqi government is to provide immediate medical assistance to the injured and to ensure their security and safety against any violence from any side,” said Gyorgy Busztin, the deputy special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for Iraq.
Under its humanitarian mandate, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq “is closely following up on developments on the ground, and is using all possible means to conduct its own assessment of the situation”, Mr. Busztin said.
At Camp Liberty, meanwhile, residents have gone on a hunger strike to protest the attack on Camp Ashraf, said Shahriar Kia, a spokesman for the residents said in a phone interview from Camp Liberty.
Camp Ashraf previously has been the target of Iraqi forces: In July 2009, a least nine dissidents were killed in an Iraqi army raid, and 34 were killed in a massive attack in April 2011 that was widely denounced as a massacre.