News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIraqi police in stand-off with Iran camp residents

Iraqi police in stand-off with Iran camp residents

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ImageAFP: Hundreds of Iraqi police and soldiers were in a tense stand-off with residents of a camp housing Iran's main exiled opposition on Wednesday, after violence a day earlier left more than 400 wounded.

By Mehdi Lebouachera

ImageKHALES, Iraq (AFP) — Hundreds of Iraqi police and soldiers were in a tense stand-off with residents of a camp housing Iran's main exiled opposition on Wednesday, after violence a day earlier left more than 400 wounded.

The opposition group said six people were also killed in the violence that resulted when the Iraqi army stormed Camp Ashraf on Tuesday, followed by riot police called in to quell resistance by camp residents.

There was no independent confirmation of any deaths.

The Iraqi defence ministry was unapologetic about the raid against the People's Mujahedeen base in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, saying it was justified under a November security agreement with Washington.

"It's our territory and it's our right to enter, to impose Iraqi law on everybody," defence ministry spokesman General Mohammed Askari told Al-Arabiya television.

"They (camp residents) have to submit to the law, and to Iraqi sovereignty. The SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) authorises us to do what we did."

Under the pact, Iraqi security forces took over responsibility for the camp three months ago from US forces, which had disarmed the some 3,500 residents following the 2003 invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein.

A police official had told AFP earlier that negotiations between Diyala provincial police chief General Abdul Hussein al-Shamari and the Mujahedeen had resulted in the withdrawal of riot police, who were to be replaced by the army.

But police were still present within the camp Wednesday morning when an AFP correspondent attempted to enter, and Shahriar Kia, a spokesman for the rebel group, said by telephone that police were "inside Camp Ashraf".

The official said the casualty toll among camp residents was 300, including 25 women. About 110 members of the Iraqi security forces were also wounded in the violence, he said, adding that more than 50 camp residents had been detained.

The Mujahedeen spokesman, however, said six people had been killed by Iraqi security forces and 385 camp residents wounded.

He expressed concern that those arrested would be handed over to Iran, but US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington that the Iraqi government had given assurances that "no Camp Ashraf resident will be forcibly transferred to a country where they have reason to fear persecution."

A US administration official said that Washington — which still blacklists the Mujahedeen as a terrorist organisation — had also received assurances that camp residents would be treated in a "humane" manner.

The head of the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran, which includes the Mujahedeen, condemned the raid on the camp and accused Baghdad of doing Tehran's bidding.

"This aggression is a flagrant violation of international conventions and the assurances given by the Iraqi government to the United States about the protection of the residents of Ashraf," Maryam Rajavi said in a statement.

She charged that Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had ordered the raid in a bid to distract attention from the deadly unrest inside Iran sparked by last month's hotly disputed presidential election.

"This attack aims to put into action the orders of Khamenei, who has not been able to face down the revolt of the Iranian people and who is trying to compensate for his huge defeat in attacking Ashraf," she said.

The Iranian government has accused the Mujahedeen of a key role in fomenting the post-election protests.

The storming of the camp coincided with a visit to Iraq by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates but the top US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, said the US military had no advance warning.

The People's Mujahedeen was founded in 1965 in opposition to the shah and has subsequently fought to oust the clerical regime which took power in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The group set up Camp Ashraf in the 1980s — when Saddam was at war with the Islamic republic — as a base to operate against the Iranian government.

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