BAGHDAD (AP) — Members of an Iranian dissident group have been killed inside a contested camp in Iraq, according to the opposition organization and the Iraqi government, though their accounts of the circumstances differ.
The deaths occurred at Camp Ashraf, a Saddam Hussein-era community northeast of Baghdad that is home to about 100 members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. The group, known by the acronym MEK, opposes Iran's clerical regime. The Iraqi government wants to shut the camp and move MEK members out of the country.
A spokesman for the MEK's parent organization, the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, alleged that those killed died in a raid launched by Iraqi security forces early Sunday. The spokesman, Shahin Gobadi, said as many as 44 people inside the camp were killed. He had no details on the number of wounded.
Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Iraq's prime minister, confirmed that some camp residents were killed. He said a preliminary investigation suggests they died as a result of infighting among camp residents, and he denies that Iraqi forces were involved. Authorities are still trying to determine the number of casualties, he said.
Gobadi dismissed the government spokesman's claim as "preposterous" and "absolute lies."
A police official in Diyala province, where Camp Ashraf is located, corroborated the account of an Iraqi raid on the camp overnight, and said that at least 19 people were killed. He agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Previous Iraqi raids on the camp, including one in April 2011, claimed dozens of lives.
U.N. officials said they are still trying to determine what happened at Camp Ashraf.
"It appears that deadly force has been used and that a number of people have been killed or wounded," the U.N. refugee agency said in a statement that condemned the attack. Without assigning blame for the incident, it called on Iraqi officials to ensure residents' security and urged an end to the violence so medical help can reach the wounded.
Camp Ashraf was once home to more than 3,000 MEK followers, but most moved to a former U.S. military base on the outskirts of Baghdad last year while the United Nations works to resettle them abroad. That camp, known as Camp Liberty, has since been targeted by militants in rocket attacks that have killed 10 people and injured many more, according to the MEK.
MEK last month accused the Iraqi authorities of deliberately cutting off water and electricity to Camp Ashraf, a charged denied by Georges Bakoos, who oversees the MEK issue for the Iraqi government. He could not be reached for comment Sunday.
The MEK fought alongside Iraqi forces in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and several thousand of its members were granted sanctuary inside Iraq by Saddam. The group renounced violence in 2001 and was taken off the U.S. terrorism list last September.
Iraq's current Shiite-led government, which has strengthened ties with neighboring Shiite powerhouse Iran, considers the MEK's presence in Iraq illegal and wants its followers out of the country. It has been working with the United Nations to resettle MEK members, but the process has been slow.
A total of 162 MEK members have been resettled abroad so far, mostly in Albania.
Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed reporting.
Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck .
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