BAGHDAD — Members of an Iranian dissident group were killed Sunday at a contested camp in Iraq, according to the opposition organization and the Iraqi government, though their accounts of the circumstances differ.
The deaths occurred at Camp Ashraf, a Saddam Hussein-era community northeast of Baghdad that is home to about 100 members of the Mujahideen-e Khalq. The group, known by the acronym MEK, opposes Iran’s clerical regime. The Iraqi government wants to shut the camp and move MEK members out of the country.
A spokesman for the MEK’s parent organization, the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, alleged that those killed died in a raid launched by Iraqi security forces early Sunday. The spokesman, Shahin Gobadi, said some of those killed were found with their arms handcuffed behind their backs.
Gobadi said that 44 people inside the camp were killed and provided photos allegedly from the scene that showed several bodies of people who appeared to have been killed by gunshots. It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the photos.
A police official in Diyala province, where Camp Ashraf is located, corroborated the account of an Iraqi raid and said that at least 19 people were killed. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister, confirmed that some camp residents were killed. He said a preliminary investigation suggests they died as a result of infighting among camp residents and denied that Iraqi forces were involved. Authorities are trying to determine the number of casualties, he said.
Gobadi dismissed the government spokesman’s statement as “preposterous” and “absolute lies.”
Iranian state television took note of the attack, reporting at one point that 23 MEK members were killed by “the Iraqi people and mujahideen.” It gave no sources for the information and didn’t air any footage.
Previous Iraqi raids on the camp, including one in April 2011, claimed dozens of lives.
The acting U.N. envoy to Iraq, Gyorgy Busztin, condemned the events at Camp Ashraf but did not assign blame.
“The priority for the Iraqi government is to provide immediate medical assistance to the injured and to ensure their security and safety against any violence from any side,” Busztin said. He added that the U.N. mission “is using all possible means to conduct its own assessment of the situation.”