Wall Street Journal: Members of an Iranian dissidents' group formed a human blockade to successfully prevent Iraqi troops from seizing more territory in their camp north of Baghdad, in the third day of a confrontation that showed no sign of ending soon.
The Wall Street Journal
By CHARLES LEVINSON
CAMP ASHRAF, Iraq — Members of an Iranian dissidents' group formed a human blockade to successfully prevent Iraqi troops from seizing more territory in their camp north of Baghdad, in the third day of a confrontation that showed no sign of ending soon.
Hundreds of Iraqi forces occupy just a sliver of territory within the sprawling camp, which is home to over 3,000 members of Mujahedin e-Khalq, or MEK. The Iraqi government said Wednesday it had asserted sovereignty over the entire camp following Tuesday's raid.
But camp residents have blocked soldiers from patrolling beyond the land around an Iraqi police station established in an administrative building next to the camp's water-treatment plant.
The government appears wary of trying to push deeper into the camp after the initial assault triggered deadly clashes. "If we try to leave this area without permission from the MEK they will block us, lie in front of our vehicles," said Col. Saady Husseini, the commander of the police station.
MEK representatives say 12 people have been killed and about 500 were wounded. The Iraqi government has disputed those numbers. U.S. officials confirmed there have been deaths, but said they weren't sure how many. Iraqi officers said 74 police and soldiers were wounded by MEK members.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed on Thursday to let a small group of journalists into the camp. Visitors were given access to only the few hundred yards of land along the main road controlled by Iraqi forces.
MEK members lined up outside the Iraqi army's cordon and held placards and shouted, "We are hostages," pleading for the U.S. to take a stand.
U.S. military representatives declined to comment on Thursday's events, as did the State Department. On Wednesday, State officials said they were unhappy with Iraq's handling of the operation, but said it was a matter of Iraqi sovereignty.
The U.S. military had given the camp's residents formal protection and many U.S. soldiers stationed here developed good relations with MEK members. In February, the U.S. handed control of the camp to Iraqi forces.
A U.S. Army captain got into a yelling match with an Iraqi officer at the camp's gates after the officer banned journalists from speaking to members of the MEK and visiting the rest of the camp, including the hospital, where the group says hundreds of its members who were beaten by Iraqi forces are being treated.
When the Iraqi officer tried to approach him while he spoke with journalists, he held up his hands and yelled angrily at him to get away.
The group's members have lived here since Saddam Hussein offered them refuge in 1986. Eucalyptus groves and grape arbors line paved, landscaped boulevards. MEK residents fear the Iraqi government's close ties to Iran, which has long called on Iraq to dismantle the camp.
Col. Husseini described his attempts to negotiate peacefully with the group before resorting to force. "We assured them that we would not let anyone enter with links to Iran and they still refused."