February 28, 2013 / 8:03 PM / 5 years ago

Iranian exiles ask U.N., U.S. protection in Iraq after rocket hit

GENEVA (Reuters) - An Iranian exile leader called on Thursday for swift U.N. and U.S. action to prevent further attacks on Iranian dissidents in a transit camp in Iraq following a rocket strike in which at least five people were killed and many wounded.

The dissident group Mujahadin-e-Khalq (MEK) calls for the overthrow of Iran’s Shi’ite Muslim clerical leadership. The MEK fought alongside the forces of Iraq’s late Sunni Muslim dictator Saddam Hussein in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Maryam Rajavi, head of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), affiliated with the MEK, made the appeal at the U.N.’s Geneva offices three weeks after the attack on Camp Liberty near Baghdad, which houses some 3,000 MEK dissidents.

“A repetition of this crime is imminent ... An urgent solution is essential because there is an immediate threat to the lives and the security of those living there,” she told diplomats and U.N. officials.

The only options, she added, were for all the residents to be sent together to the United States or for them to be returned to Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad where they had lived for nearly a decade until last year.

The MEK is no longer welcome in Iraq under the Shi’ite Muslim-led government that came to power after U.S.-led forces invaded and toppled Saddam in 2003. Some exiles say they suspect that Baghdad might be ready to send them back to Iran.

The MEK insists that the United States, whose forces initially helped them settle in Ashraf after the 2003 invasion, still bears responsibility for their safety.

But Washington says this is the responsibility of the Iraqi government and after the attack on Camp Liberty it called on Baghdad to do everything needed to beef up security there.

Rajavi, speaking at an informal meeting on the fringes of a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council also attended by European parliamentarians, also said Iran’s clerical leaders were allowing executions and torture of political prisoners.

The MEK said earlier it did not know who was behind the February 9 rocket attack but that one probable suspect was Iran’s Quds force - an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards with a special focus on military operations outside the country.

The MEK was formally removed from the U.S. State Department’s official list of terrorist organizations last year.

Also known as the People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran, the group waged a guerrilla campaign against the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran in the 1970s that included attacks on U.S. targets.

Two reports by the U.N. Human Rights Council released on Thursday said Iranian authorities have stepped up executions, including of juveniles, and arrests of activists and opponents who are often tortured in jail, sometimes fatally.

Editing by Mark Heinrich

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