Baghdad/Tehran – Clashes continued for the second day on Wednesday between Iraqi security forces and an armed exiled Iranian opposition group, leaving at least eight people killed and 455 injured.
Although some Iraqi government officials denied any deaths in the clashes, Abdel-Nasser al-Mahdawi, governor of Iraq’s northeastern Diyala province, told reporters earlier on Wednesday that eight members of the People’s Mujahidin of Iran (PMOI) organization were killed and at least 425 others were injured.
Al-Mahdawi said that 30 members of the Iraqi security forces were injured in the clashes between the group and Iraqi policemen at Camp Ashraf, the group’s base in Iraq, and that 80 Iraqis suffered from the effects of tear gas blown back at them by the wind.
Earlier on Wednesday, Shahriar Kia, a spokesman for the exiled group, said that five people had died of injuries sustained in the clashes at Camp Ashraf, and that 385 had been injured, 13 of them critically.
‘This aggression is a clear violation of international conventions and the assurances of the governments of Iraq and the US regarding the protection of Ashraf residents,’ PMOI leader Maryam Rajavi was quoted as saying from Rome, according to a statement released Wednesday.
Iraqi Defence Ministry spokesman General Mohammed Askari refuted the PMOI charges.
‘It’s our territory and it’s our right to enter, to impose Iraqi law on everybody,’ he told Dubai’s Al-Arabiya satellite news channel. ‘They have to submit to the law, and to Iraqi sovereignty.’
Al-Mahdawi said police had arrived at the camp to establish a police station there, and responded with tear gas when camp residents tried to prevent them from entering.
PMOI said that Iraqi authorities had banned reporters from entering the camp ‘because they were afraid that their crimes in Ashraf camp would be revealed.’
The organization called on the French-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and other freedom of expression organizations to help journalists gain access to the camp.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh last week announced the government would assume control of the security and administration of the camp, following the transfer of responsibility for the camp’s security from US to Iraqi forces.
He added that the Iraqi government did not intend to force any of the Iranian rebels to leave Iraq.
Omar Faruq, a member of Diyala’s provincial council, said that US forces were in the area during the confrontation, but did not intervene.
The US State Department said Tuesday said while developments at Camp Ashraf, a refuge of 3,500 exiled Iranians, were a matter for the Iraqi government, the US was monitoring the situation.
The Iranian government meanwhile applauded the Iraqi police actions. Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani was quoted by the Mehr news agency as saying: ‘Although the move by the Iraqi government came late, it is still welcomed that Iraqi territory has been cleared of terrorists.’
Iran and the United States list the PMOI as a terrorist group. Iran blames the group for several high-profile political assassinations.
After the group was expelled from France in the 1980s, Iraq’s then-president, Saddam Hussein, allocated it a military base near the border with Iran.
Iran has said that before US troops toppled Hussein’s government, the PMOI frequently infiltrated its territory, leading to clashes and casualties on both sides.
After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US military disarmed the group and was responsible for protecting it in the face of sectarian violence throughout Iraq. In the summer of 2008, that responsibility was handed over to the Iraqi army.
In Washington, a group of more than a dozen Iranians and Iranian Americans staged a hunger strike in front of the White House to protest the assault at the camp and the failure of the United States to stop it.
‘What has happened in Iraq is a humanitarian catastrophe,’ said Ali Safavi, a spokesman for the PMOI. He said the group intended to carry out the hunger strike until Iraqi soldiers withdrew from Ashraf and that similar demonstrations were taking place in European capitals.
Hajar Mojtahedzadeh said she had heard her 27-year-old brother at the camp had been injured and expressed concerns that he was unable to receive medical attention.