- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 29, 2015

An Iranian dissident group said more than 20 of its members in Iraq were killed Thursday when a barrage of Iranian-made rockets slammed into a former U.S. military base near Baghdad where Iraqi authorities have kept the dissidents in a state of semi-captivity for years.

Although the casualty count could not be immediately verified, Iraqi police confirmed that at least 16 rockets had rained down on Camp Liberty, a facility the Iraqi government has used since 2012 to house more than 2,000 members of the Iranian opposition group known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MEK.

No one claimed responsibility, but MEK leaders, who have powerful advocates in Washington and in several European capitals, were quick to pin ultimate blame on the Iranian government and claimed that Tehran-backed leaders in Baghdad willingly allowed the attack to occur.

Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, sharply condemned the attack and said the agency was still trying to determine the number of casualties and the damage to the camp.

“This is a most deplorable act,” Mr. Guterres said. “Every effort must continue to be made for the injured and to identify and bring to account those responsible.”

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said U.S. officials reached out to “ensure that the government of Iraq renders all possible medical and emergency assistance to the victims” and pressed other nations to accept camp residents for relocation.

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“The United States strongly condemns today’s brutal, senseless terrorist attack on [Camp Liberty] that killed and injured camp residents,” Mr. Kerry said in a statement. “Our condolences go out to the families of the victims, and we hope for the swift recovery of those injured.”

MEK supporters said the scale of the attack was far greater than Iraqi authorities reported and that some “80 missiles slammed into Camp Liberty.”

A representative of the group told The Washington Times that 23 of the camp’s residents, including at least one woman, were killed and two dozen others were wounded. The representative said Iranian-made Falagh missiles were among the rockets that hit the camp.

On Wednesday, German officials announced the arrest of a 31-year-old Iranian man suspected of spying for the Iranian government on MEK members living in Germany.

German prosecutors said Wednesday that Maysam P., whose last name wasn’t given in accordance with the country’s privacy laws, was being held on suspicion that he clandestinely researched Iranian opposition members in Berlin and passed on the information to a contact in Iran’s intelligence service, known as the MOIS, in exchange for money.

Before the attack, MEK supporters on Capitol Hill were warning about the precarious status of the dissident camp in Iraq. The refugees were invited into Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime but have been treated with far more suspicion by the current government, which has much closer ties to Tehran.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who maintains that MEK members have a long record of providing Washington with “useful intelligence” on Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities, convened a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in early October to highlight what he described as a failure by successive U.S. administrations to protect the group in Iraq.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce, California Republican, called the attack “deeply troubling” and a test for the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad.

The Iraqi government made a commitment to protect the camp’s residents, Mr. Royce said, and the “U.S. and international community must demand accountability.”

Turbulent history

The MEK has a long and turbulent history with Washington.

The group engaged in a power struggle against leaders of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. For years, the State Department officially listed the MEK as a terrorist organization.

Its members fled Iran for Iraq during the 1980s and joined forces with Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war. When U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003, the MEK’s status and fate became deeply entangled in the U.S. mission.

Its members lived under U.S. military protection for years but were handed over to the Iraqi government when President Obama withdrew American troops in 2011. There have been repeated reports that Iraqi authorities — seeking to win the support of Iran — have turned a blind eye to attacks that have killed dozens of unarmed MEK members.

The group’s members outside Iraq have engaged in a powerful international public relations push through a wider French- and U.S.-based organization known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, winning support from dozens of high-level former — and several current — U.S. officials.

At Mr. McCain’s hearing this month, retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones said U.S. officials promised before the military withdrawal in Iraq to protect the MEK.

Gen. Jones, who served as Mr. Obama’s national security adviser in 2009 and 2010, said Washington has been “slow, ineffective and even reluctant in responding to our humanitarian obligation to facilitate” the group’s relocation out of Iraq and that its members should be treated as refugees.

Maryam Rajavi, a top member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, made a similar plea Thursday, asserting that the Iraqi government and the United Nations years ago signed a “memorandum of understanding” to ensure the protection of MEK members and that both “must answer for this attack.”

Mrs. Rajavi also said that “the Iranian regime’s agents within the Iraqi government are responsible for the latest assault.”

“The United States and the United Nations are fully aware of this reality,” she said. “We had warned about such attacks … 26 members of the [U.S.] House of Representatives and 32 distinguished senior political, military officials and 70 members of the French National Assembly had warned the U.S. government, the United Nations and the European Union regarding their responsibility in this regard.”

Iraqi police, meanwhile, said at least 16 Iraqi soldiers assigned to guarding Camp Liberty were also wounded in the attack, according to The Associated Press.

This was not the first attack on Camp Liberty. Last year, the Islamic State was said to have fired rockets near Baghdad International Airport as it attempted to destabilize the capital, the AP reported.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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