BAGHDAD — An Iraqi army raid last week on Camp Ashraf left 34 Iranian exiles dead, according to a U.N. spokesman who on Thursday offered the first independent death toll for the attack that drew sharp rebukes from Baghdad's Western allies.
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry on Thursday called it a "massacre."
The April 8 raid targeted the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, which seeks to overthrow Iran's clerical leaders. The group won refuge at Camp Ashraf years ago during the regime of Saddam Hussein, who saw them as a convenient ally against Iran. But since then, the exiles have become an irritant to Iraq's new Shiite-led government, which is trying to bolster ties with Iran.
The attack was the climax of days of building tensions between the Iraqi army and Ashraf residents, who feared they were about to be attacked after nervously watching soldiers bulk up their forces outside the camp. The Iraqi general who led the raid said it was in response to Ashraf residents pelting his troops with rocks and throwing themselves in front of military cars.
The U.N. visit was critical because the Ashraf residents and the Iraqi government have issued wildly different accounts of the raid and the reasons behind it.
U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville in Geneva said a team of U.N. observers saw 28 bodies still at the camp during a Wednesday visit to the compound in eastern Diyala province. Most of the bodies appeared to have been shot and some were women, he said. Three of the bodies appeared to have been crushed to death, a Western diplomat in Baghdad said — likely from being run over by a car.