BAGHDAD — The United Nations called on the Iraqi government Tuesday to do all it can to protect the dozens of Iranian exiles left in a camp north of Baghdad after confirming that 52 people were killed there earlier this week.
Iraq’s government, which is dominated by Shiites hostile to the former regime who have been bolstering ties with neighboring Shiite powerhouse Iran, wants to shut the facility known as Camp Ashraf and transfer thousands of Iranian exiles living there and in another camp out of the country.
Some 3,000 camp residents reluctantly moved to a former U.S. military base on Baghdad’s outskirts last year. That new facility, known as Camp Liberty, is meant to be a temporary way station while U.N. officials work to resettle the exiles abroad. It has been repeatedly targeted by militants in deadly rocket attacks.
The presence of the Mujahideen-e Khalq, or MEK, which opposes Iran’s clerical regime, has long been an irritant for the Iraqi government and posed an obstacle in U.S.-Iraqi relations for years after the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, who had granted the exiles refuge.
The U.S. military guarded the camp after the invasion under an agreement that made its 3,400 residents “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions, and the exiles long worried they would be increasingly targeted as the Americans withdrew from the country in 2011.
The dilemma shot to the fore again on Sunday when MEK supporters say Iraqi forces attacked the Saddam Hussein-era facility and killed 52 residents of the remaining 100 or so residents there. An Iraqi government spokesman and the local police chief denied Iraqi forces were involved, saying the killings were the result of an internal dispute.
Shahin Gobadi, a spokesman for the MEK’s parent organization in Paris, alleged Tuesday that Iraqi forces were preparing to attack the remaining residents. The police chief of Diyala Province, where the camp is located, denied any siege of Camp Ashraf.
The United Nations said members of a delegation that traveled to the compound, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, on Monday saw the bodies of 52 victims with apparent gunshot wounds, confirming death tolls provided by backers of the exiles and an Iraqi official.
U.N., U.S. and European officials have condemned the bloodshed and called for an investigation, though they have not ascribed blame for the killings. The United Nations’ Iraq mission said in a statement Tuesday that the camp “does not provide an adequate level of security for its residents.”
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has announced the formation of a special committee to probe the events at the camp.
Also Tuesday, a series of coordinated evening blasts in Baghdad and other violence across the country killed at least 67 people, officials said, adding that the explosions in the capital struck 11 different neighborhoods and claimed more than 50 lives in a span of less than two hours.