Iraq Raids Camp of Exiles From Iran
Move Seen as Sign Tehran Is Eclipsing American Influence
Wednesday, July 29, 2009; 9:29 AM
BAGHDAD, July 29 -- Clashes between Iraqi troops and members of an Iranian opposition group continued Wednesday morning after a bloody raid Tuesday on the opposition group's camp, which had been sheltered by the U.S. military when it oversaw security in Iraq.
Provincial governor Abdul Nasir al-Mahdawee said eight Iranians were killed in the standoff at Camp Ashraf in Diyala province, and at least 17 Iraqi security officials were wounded. The governor said at least 400 Iranians were injured.
The attack was the Iraqi government's boldest move since it declared its sovereignty a month ago and the latest sign that American influence is waning as Iranian clout rises.
The operation, which caught U.S. officials off guard, coincided with a visit to Iraq by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Analysts said it appeared designed to send a message of Iraqi independence.
The Iranian group is known as the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, or MEK. It has supplied information about Iran's nuclear program to the United States, and has long been an irritant to the Islamic republic, which has repeatedly asked the government of neighboring Iraq to expel MEK members.
The way Baghdad deals with the group is widely seen as a signal of whether Iraq is more heavily swayed by Iran or by the United States.
Behzad Saffari, one of the leaders at the camp, said Wednesday that the camp's clinic is running out of supplies and does not have the equipment to treat residents with critical injuries. Residents, he added, are worried that soldiers will storm into their living quarters.
"This is our main fear, that that is the next step," he said. "We have over 1,000 women here. That is now our main concern."
U.S. officials have long opposed a violent takeover of the camp northeast of Baghdad, and the Iraqi government's willingness to carry out the raid while Gates was in the country startled some American officials.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said American officials did not oppose an assault on the camp as long as troops treated residents humanely.
He said initial reports from Iraqi commanders indicated that their troops had not used lethal force and that no one had been killed -- accounts that directly contradict the reports by camp leaders and officials in Diyala province.
"We didn't know they were going to do this," Odierno said Tuesday night. "We had no prior warning."