BAGHDAD — Clashes on Sunday at a camp in northeastern Iraq that houses a group of Iranian dissidents, who until last year were considered terrorists by the U.S. government, left at least 15 people dead, according to two security officials.
The circumstances of the violence, as well as the number of casualties, were contested by both sides — the Iraqi government and representatives of the group — and the United Nations said it was trying to determine the details of the episode. The Iraqi security officials said 15 people in the camp had been killed and more than 30 wounded, while representatives of the group, known as Mujahedeen Khalq, or the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, said more than 50 people had been killed.
The security officials said that special forces soldiers stormed the camp after being provoked, while a spokesman for the group described the events as a "savage attack" in which soldiers fired rockets and then stormed buildings, handcuffing some residents before shooting them.
A statement released by the U.N. office in Baghdad said that "while we are still seeking details of what occurred, it appears that deadly force has been used and that a number of people have been killed or wounded." The statement added that "the use of violence against a civilian population is unacceptable in any circumstances."
The group, also known as the MEK, was a guerrilla organization opposed to clerical rule in Iran. Its members were given refuge in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, who is believed to have employed some of them as mercenaries to put down Kurdish and Shiite insurrections within Iraq.
After the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the group was protected by the U.S. military, but its members are unwelcome in Iraq today. The United Nations has processed many as refugees and is seeking third countries to accept them. Some have moved to Albania, but many more are being housed on the site of a former American military base near the Baghdad airport known as Camp Liberty.
The group was removed from the State Department's list of terrorist organizations last year.