x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Iraq: six Iranian exiles killed in clashes at camp

After initial denials, the Iraqi government says six people were killed in violence at the camp north of Baghdad.

BAGHDAD // After two days of denying people died during clashes this week between Iranian exiles and Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi government said today that six people were killed in violence at the camp north of Baghdad. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said an investigation was under way to determine how the six Iranians died. It was the first official acknowledgement of casualties at the camp.

The Iranian group said that at least seven people were killed and hundreds wounded, and warned that the situation at Camp Ashraf remained tense. The violence has raised concerns about whether Iraq, which wants the Iranians out of its country, used excessive violence. The setting up of the police outpost on the camp of the People's Mujahedeen Organization first sparked the deadly clashes on Tuesday and created a riot among the exiles and prompting the police to fight back with water canon and batons.

Mr al-Dabbagh said the situation at the camp was now stable and that a police station has been established inside the camp. He denied excessive force was used, but added the investigation also was looking at what led to the clashes. He said two of the dead were shot in the back, raising the possibility they were killed by their own side. "Six people of Ashraf Camp were killed and about 35 members of Iraqi police were injured because of the riot," Mr al-Dabbagh said.

Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran - an umbrella group that includes the People's Mujahedeen - said seven people died. Journalists have been refused entry to the camp, making it difficult to independently verify casualty numbers. The Iraq raid on Camp Ashraf has caused international concern and raised human rights issues. The camp was first set up in 1986 to house Iranian fighters who were helping Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran war.

The exiles fear that if they are deported back to Iran they may be prosecuted by the government for the group's collaboration with Saddam. Iraq has said it wants them to leave the country and seeks to close Camp Ashraf, located some 130km north of Baghdad. *AP