Iraq sets deadline to dismantle Iran exile camp
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi government has set a year-end deadline for residents of an Iranian dissident camp to leave the country, a government spokesman said on Monday, after a violent crackdown last week in which at least 10 people died.
Camp Ashraf, a dusty, 25-year-old village in a rural area northeast of Baghdad, is the base of the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran, a guerrilla group that opposes the Shi'ite cleric leaders of neighbouring Iran.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran, the PMOI's political wing, said 34 people died, some by gunfire, in a "criminal attack" by Iraqi security forces on the camp early on Friday.
Iraqi military officials said three residents died in clashes when soldiers responded to provocation after being pelted with rocks and threatened by camp residents, but denied using firearms. A hospital source put the toll at 10 dead and 40 wounded and said most of the victims bore gunshot wounds. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh called the PMOI a "terrorist organisation" and said the government would enforce a previous decision to close the camp, giving residents until the end of December to leave Iraq.
"This organisation must be removed from Iraqi territory by all means, including political and diplomatic, with the cooperation of the U.N. and international organisations," Dabbagh said in a statement.
Ashraf has been a sore spot for the United States, Iraq and Iran for years. All three consider the PMOI a terrorist group.
Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein gave it shelter in Iraq and some of its guerrillas fought with him against Iran. The group surrendered its weapons to U.S. forces after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam.
The U.S. military turned the camp over to Iraq in 2009 under a bilateral security pact between the two countries.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had ordered Iraqi forces to attack the camp, which is located in troubled Diyala province about 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad, in a remote location largely inaccessible to journalists.
The group said soldiers used automatic weapons and machine guns installed on armoured vehicles to open fire on residents, and accused the Iraqi military of blocking access to medical care for the wounded.
In a statement on Monday, the group said the toll had reached 34 dead with more than 300 wounded, some in critical condition.
Washington said the Iraqi government had initiated the crisis at Ashraf and the United Nations called on Baghdad to allow the U.N. mission in Iraq to monitor the camp. Rights group Amnesty International called for an independent investigation of the incident.
(Reporting by Waleed Ibrahim; Writing by Jim Loney)
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