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Iraq acknowledges deaths at Iran exile camp
Thu Jul 30, 2009 3:53pm EDT
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By Mohammed Abbas and Tim Cocks
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's government acknowledged on Thursday that seven Iranian exiles were killed when Iraqi forces took control of their camp this week north of Baghdad.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh had earlier denied anyone died in the clashes between Iraqi forces and protesters who tried to block their entry into Camp Ashraf, home to the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI) for two decades.
Iraq, Iran and the United States call the dissident group a terrorist organization. Iraq's Shi'ite Arab-led government wants to close the camp and send residents to Iran or a third country.
Residents have reported that Iraqi forces stormed the camp, shooting, beating and arresting people.
Resident Behzad Saffari, acting as a spokesman for other residents, said a dozen had been killed, at least six of whom were shot by police. Hundreds were wounded, he said.
Dabbagh said on Thursday that seven people had died but disputed residents' accounts of how the deaths occurred.
"Five of them threw themselves in front of Iraqi police vehicles ... That's not death by shooting, but by rioting."
He said the other two people were shot by PMOI snipers when they tried to leave the camp. Iraqi officials regard the group as a threat and say many of the camp's 3,500 residents are brainwashed or forced to stay.
Some human rights groups and supporters in the West have been highly critical of the way Iraq has handled Ashraf.
They say closing the camp and driving residents out against their will would violate international human rights law.
A U.S. team is providing medical care to injured residents at Camp Ashraf, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington, adding that U.S. officials met Iraqi officials on Wednesday to urge Iraq to treat the people humanely.
"We wanted to stress the importance...of Iraq fulfilling its commitment to the U.S. government to treat the camp residents humanely," Kelly said. "The government of Iraq did agree to allow U.S. forces to provide medical assistance to those who were injured at Camp Ashraf ... Right now a U.S. medical team (is) there performing this assistance."
"TIME TO LEAVE"
The PMOI said on Tuesday residents would be willing to move back to Iran but only on condition they were guaranteed immunity from prosecution, jail, torture or execution under international observation, a condition Tehran is unlikely to accept.
"They cannot remove us. The people of Ashraf are ready to die," Saffari told Reuters. "This is a matter of pride and dignity that we stay. You cannot say to people who've been here for 20 years that suddenly it's time to leave." Continued...
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