On April 8th, the same day Defense Secretary Robert Gates was visiting leaders in Baghdad, a 2,500-man Iraqi Army unit raided a compound occupied by Iranian dissidents in Iraq, killing 34 people and injuring 325 others. Eight of those killed were women, according to the United Nations.
The attack occurred just hours after members of the same group in Washington revealed what they said was a previously undisclosed Iranian centrifuge production facility near Tehran — part of Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program.
Camp Ashraf has long served as a sanctuary for members of the anti-Iranian government group known as the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (MEK) — a place the U.S. military vowed to protect shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
But with only 47,000 U.S. troops still in the country, and a new Shiite-led government in Iraq looking to bolster relations with Iran, the camp is threatened.
A 12-minute video released by the MEK documents the nighttime attack, beginning with images of Iraqi soldiers driving through crowds of civilians and running men over with trucks and armored Humvees. It shows soldiers firing on and killing groups of unarmed men and women. Gaping wounds suffered by survivors are displayed in detail along with images of the dead laid side by side and covered to the neck by white sheets.
The Iraqi general who led the raid claims the shootings came in response to residents pelting his troops with rocks and throwing themselves in front of his military vehicles.
MEK say those same soldiers are still preventing the wounded from getting proper medical treatment.
MEK was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. after it carried out an assassination campaign targeting American military leaders in Tehran in the 70’s, as well as later attacking Iranian government targets. Since then the group has become better known for revealing secret production facilities related to the Iranian nuclear program, as it did with uranium enrichment facility in Natanz in 2002.
Sen. John Kerry, head of the Foreign Relations Committee, wants the Iraqis to conduct a full investigation and the called the raid “deeply disturbing” and “simply unacceptable.”
Gates commented on the incident while he was in Iraq, saying he was “concerned” with the reports of deaths and injuries.
And State Department spokesman Mark Toner later condemned the attack, but called it a “sovereign” matter for the Iraqis. By law, the U.S. security agreement with Iraq prohibits the U.S. military from intervening.
A number of former U.S. government officials spoke out about the raid during a conference at the Mayflower hotel in Washington Thursday, many of them calling on the State Department to remove the MEK from its list of terrorist groups.
Michael Mukasey, an attorney general under George W. Bush, called the Iraqi’s guarantee in 2003 to protect the group, “worthless.” He said that unless the U.S. removes the MEK from its terror list the killings will continue.
“What has enabled the Iraqi government — acting in the behest of the Iranian regime — and what enables the Iranian regime itself is this continued designation,” Mukasey said.
Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, linked the incident at Camp Ashraf to current Arab uprisings in the region.
“How can we hope to help those inside Iran who are seeking a more open and liberated government if we can’t help those in Camp Ashraf who are simply asking for protection and an opportunity to live their lives in peace,?” he asked.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for the MEK and the National Council of Resistance Iran, says the Iranians encouraged the Iraqis to attack Camp Ashraf.
“This is a pure crime committed intentionally by the Iraqi government against the Iranian dissidents to do the bidding for Tehran,” Jafarzadeh said.
The last portion of the video provided by MEK shows a 29 year-old Iranian woman, named Isiyeh Rakhshani, delivering a video message to Congress in 2010. Flash to April 8th where she’s shooting cell phone video of the attack on Ashraf. In the final frame Rakhshani’s mother is seen mourning over her dead body.