WASHINGTON (CN) – Iranian refugees in Iraq say military forces of the two countries cooperated in storming their settlement, firing indiscriminately from Humvees into peaceful crowds, killing dozens while pillaging and looting their homes.
The refugees fear more attacks are imminent, when the United States withdraws its last troops from Iraq on Dec. 31.
Residents of Camp Ashraf, a haven for the People’s Mojahedin of Iran in Iraq, sued high-ranking members of the Iranian and Iraqi military for crimes against humanity, torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, under U.S. and international law, in Federal Court.
Camp Ashraf is in Iraq’s Diyala Province, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad and 44 miles from the Iranian border. Since the mid-1980s it has been the political center of the People’s Mojahedin in Iraq, which the four plaintiffs describe as “Iran’s main opposition group.” They say the camp population is about 3,400.
The United States and the U.S.-led Multi-National Force in Iraq (MNF-I) declared its residents “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions in 2004, and the U.S. military and protected the refugees until Jan. 1, 2009, according to the complaint.
“On February 28, 2009, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly revealed the existence of an agreement with Iraq to take action against residents of Ashraf,” the complaint states. “He told the Iraqi president Iran’s expectation that the agreement would be implemented as soon as possible. Soon after that Iraq imposed severe restrictions on Camp Ashraf and effectively put the camp under siege.”
The refugees say Iraqi forces have attacked Camp Ashraf twice, in July 2009 and again in April 2011.
In 2009, the refugees say, about 2,000 soldiers belonging to several brigades of the Iraqi military, including the special forces “Scorpion” brigade, “equipped with Humvees, mechanical shovels, firearms, axes, metal and wood batons, chains, pepper spray and tear gas, sonic grenades, water cannons and other vehicles” attacked the camp, “firing indiscriminately on persons protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention.” They say the attack killed 11 and injured 400, and that 36 camp residents were detained.
On April 3, 2011, 30 Iraqi armored vehicles rolled into camp at midnight to replace a battalion of Iraqi forces, prompting Ashraf residents to send letters to the U.N. and the U.S. government, warning that “Iraqi Prime Minister Mr. Maliki had reportedly decided, at the Iranian authorities’ instigation, to order a new bloodbath in Camp Ashraf,” the refugees say.
A few days later the Iraqi forces, with 2,500 soldiers and 140 vehicles, “used sonic, smoke and teargas grenades against the residents, and eventually resorted to firearms, opening fire on the residents of Camp Ashraf,” the complaint states.
The refugees say, “Iraqi forces also shot at the residents with sniper fire” and “repeatedly drove their Humvees at the residents, running them over.”
Iraqi forces pillaged and looted Ashraf buildings and houses while U.S. medical personnel were prevented from entering the camp to give medical assistance, the refugees say.
“Many residents were killed or injured by direct, close-range gunshots from Iraqi forces as they protested peacefully at the occupation of the buildings they lived in, or as they fled their homes to save their lives,” the complaint states.
The refugees say at least 34 people, including seven or more women, were killed in the April attack, prompting the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Union to condemn the killings.
They say Iranian authorities have taken more suppressive measures against Ashraf residents by building two tall communication poles just south of the camp in preparation for the next wave of attacks.
“Future attacks are a certainty, and not solely because of prior conduct of the Iraqi and Iranian armed forces. The Iraqi government has announced that it plans to close and dismantle Camp Ashraf, by December 31, 2011,” the refugees say. “This date also happens to be the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.”
The plaintiffs sued Iran and its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Iranian Qods Force and several members of Iraq’s Ministry of Defense for cruel and inhumane treatment, crimes against humanity and infliction of emotional distress.
They seek $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
They are represented by Ali Beydoun with SPEAK Human Rights and Environmental Initiative, of Washington, D.C.