Artillery hits Iraqi refugee camp; 6 killed
By SINAN SALAHEDDIN
The Associated Press | February 10,2013
People inspect the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad’s northern Kazimyah neighborhood. Hours later, six people were killed and 40 were wounded when rockets and mortar rounds struck an Iraqi camp for Iranian refugees Saturday.
BAGHDAD — Rockets and mortar rounds struck a refugee camp for Iranian exiles next to Baghdad’s international airport before dawn Saturday, killing six people and wounding about 40, police and U.N. officials said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack. He urged Iraqi officials to investigate and bring the attackers to justice, noting that the government is responsible for the safety of the camp residents.
The government said it launched an investigation, but that there was little it can do to shield the camp, which is home to about 3,100 people, from rocket attacks. It asked the international community to speed up the resettlement of the refugees.
The camp houses members of Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MEK, the militant wing of a Paris-based Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Iraq’s Shiite-led pro-Iranian government considers MEK a terrorist group and is eager to have it out of the country.
The refugee camp, located in a former American military base known as Camp Liberty, is meant to be a temporary way-station while the United Nations works to find host countries for the refugees. They are unlikely to return to Iran because of their opposition to the regime.
Camp spokesman Shahriar Kia said 35 rockets and mortar rounds struck the camp. He said more than 100 people were hurt, while the U.N. and police put the number of wounded at about 40.
The Iranian opposition group provided amateur video and photos it said showed the aftermath of the attack. One photo showed five bodies swaddled in blankets lying on the ground in a hallway.
A video clip showed people who were wounded, some with blood-covered faces, being treated at a small clinic. Other footage said to be from the camp showed several small craters in the ground, presumably from rockets, as well as shattered windows and shredded walls of trailer homes.
Two police officials confirmed that six people were killed in Saturday’s attack and said more than 40 were hurt, including three Iraqi policemen. They spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to share information with the media.
Kia, the camp spokesman, alleged that Iraqi authorities refused to let the wounded be taken to area hospitals for treatment.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Moussawi denied the claim.
The U.N. envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, said about 40 people who were wounded were taken to hospitals shortly after the attack. Kobler said five people died at the camp and that a sixth apparently died later in a hospital.
Before being moved to the Baghdad area camp, members of the MEK lived in another camp, called Ashraf, in northeastern Iraq. Camp Ashraf was twice raided by Iraqi security forces trying to impose control, leaving more than three dozen people dead.
Iraq’s government says MEK members are living in Iraq illegally.
“We call on the international community to expedite the procedures ... to find countries for them as quickly as possible,” al-Moussawi, the government spokesman, said Saturday.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, condemned the attack and noted that camp residents were asylum seekers requesting refugee status and are entitled to international protection.
Kobler told The Associated Press that about half the camp residents have been cleared for resettlement in principle, and that he believes the first group can leave soon.
The MEK, which is also called the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, opposes Iran’s clerical regime and has carried out assassinations and bombings in Iran. It fought in the 1980s alongside Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war, and several thousand of its members were given sanctuary in Iraq by Saddam.
The group renounced violence in 2001 and the Obama administration took the MEK off the U.S. terrorism list in late September.