BAGHDAD, (AP) – Iraq’s government spokesman confirmed Thursday that six Iranians died in two days of clashes this week with Iraqi security forces at a camp for Iranian exiles north of Baghdad. The violence has raised concerns about whether Iraq, which wants the Iranians out of its country, used excessive force.
A spokesmen for the Iranian group said the number of dead was at least seven, with hundreds of wounded, and that the situation at the camp remains tense.
However, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told The Associated Press the situation is now stable and that a police station has been established inside the camp.
The setting up of the police outpost sparked the deadly clashes on Tuesday, creating a riot among the exiles and prompting the police to fight back with water canon and batons.
“Six people of Ashraf Camp were killed and about 35 members of Iraqi police were injured because of the riot,” al-Dabbagh said.
He denied excessive force was used, but added that an investigation into how the deaths occurred was under way. He said two of the dead were shot in the back, raising the possibility they were killed by their own side.
The raid on the camp of the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran 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 out of the country and seeks to close Camp Ashraf, located some 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of the Iraqi capital.
Until recently, U.S. troops were tasked with providing security for the camp but the situation had grown increasingly tense since Jan. 1, when the U.S. transferred control to the Iraqis under a security agreement.
Al-Dabbagh said police needed to set up the outpost inside the camp to keep control.
“The government intends to have control of Ashraf from inside and outside,” al-Dabbagh said, adding that the responsibility for the camp’s security is Iraq’s concern and is viewed as “part of government sovereignty.”
“They live on Iraqi soil and not on a remote island, and it is the job of Iraqi government to have control on the security situation there,” he added.
There are about 3,500 Iranians living in the camp.