The United Nations is calling on the government of Iraq to open an independent investigation into a deadly clash earlier this month at Camp Ashraf, home to members of the Iranian dissident group Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK.
“Full details of what exactly happened on the morning of 8 April are still only beginning to emerge,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement on Friday. “But it now seems certain that at least 34 people were killed in Camp Ashraf, including seven or more women. Most were shot, and some appear to have been crushed to death, presumably by vehicles.”
The Iraqi government had previously claimed that only 3 people were killed in the clash, and said that residents had thrown stones at soldiers. It then initially denied humanitarian aid from reaching the camp, and has kept journalists out. In her statement, Pillay said there is “no possible excuse for this number of casualties,” and called for a “full, independent and transparent” investigation. Pillay also spoke out on the future of MEK residents of Ashraf.
“Everyone had been fearing a tragedy like this for a long time,” she said. “I am well aware that this is a contentious group, with a complicated history, but leaving them to fester in Camp Ashraf was never going to be a solution. Clearly, since they are unable to go back to Iran, and are in danger in Iraq, the solution is most likely to involve moving them to third countries. I urge governments to take the necessary pragmatic and generous steps to resolve what is an untenable situation.”
U.S. officials have been voicing similar sentiments. In a statement last week, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said the United States “must redouble efforts with all the relevant parties - including the Iraqi government, the United Nations, the European Union, and the Mujahedin-e Khalq itself - to seek a peaceful and durable solution, and to find permanent homes for the residents of Camp Ashraf.”
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), meanwhile, issued its own statement on Saturday, reiterating the call for an independent inquiry and saying it will support the government of Iraq in seeking a “permanent solution to the issues of Camp Ashraf.”
The MEK, classified as a terrorist organization by the State Department, sought refuge in Iraq in 1986, where it was armed and supported by Saddam Hussein. It fought on the Iraqi side during the Iran-Iraq war. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.S. disarmed the group and consolidated around 3,400 members at Ashraf. Iraq took over responsibility for Ashraf in 2009, but has said that it wants to move or dismantle the camp. After the latest clash, the government announced that it would shut down the camp, and a spokesman said MEK members “need to leave Iraq by the end of the year.”
For years, the MEK has attracted support from members of Congress and other American officials. Before the April 8 clash, a large number of former U.S. government and military officials had been attending a series of events urging the government to take the MEK off the terror list.
On Sunday, AFP reported that the Iraqi army was barring the MEK from burying the dead at a cemetery in Ashraf.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com