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Iraq denies Iran exile killings, exiles show images | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iraq’s government denied on Wednesday that any Iranian exiles had been killed in clashes with security forces when they seized control of their camp, but residents said eight had died and distributed images of bodies.

Iraqi forces took control on Tuesday of Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, which for two decades has been home to members of the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI), a dissident group.

Bezhad Saffari, an Ashraf resident and lawyer, said forces stormed in and shot or beat many people, killing eight and wounding 500. Many others were arrested, he said.

The Iraqi government has said it will close the camp and expel its 3,500 residents back to Iran or to a third country.

“This morning’s report is that there was not a single death among the PMOI,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said. “The police have an order not to use any live rounds.” He added that some residents had attacked police with knives and rocks. “There are efforts under way to calm them,” he said.

Ashraf residents said Iraqi forces stormed the camp, where former leader Saddam gave refuge to opponents of the Iranian government, on Tuesday. Later in evening, they said, security forces open fired on protesters and beat others with rifles.

TV footage and photos obtained by Reuters from a camp resident showed three bodies with visible gunshot wounds, and other residents having severe head wounds stitched up. It was impossible to verify where or when they were taken.

While Iraq and the United States deem the PMOI a terrorist group, residents enjoyed some U.S. military protection after the 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, but Iraqi forces have gradually taken over.

At a news conference in Baghdad, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, Lieutenant-General Charles Jacoby, said there were no U.S. forces up near the camp and that he had not known that Iraqi forces had planned to launch an operation there.

Lieutenant-General Ali Gaidan, commander of Iraq’s ground forces, refused to be drawn on the question of deaths in Ashraf, saying he would await on a report from his commanders.

Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government, which includes many former Saddam opponents who were exiled in Iran, has close ties to Tehran and is unsympathetic to the PMOI.

The group began as leftists against Iran’s Shah but fell out with Shi’ite clerics who took power in the 1979 revolution.

While Iraqi officials insist they are respecting dissidents’ rights, Ashraf residents accuse Iraqi forces of laying siege to it and sometimes blocking the entry of food and medicines.