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Iranian exile camp in Iraq hit by violence

Dissidents blame security forces

BAGHDAD — Deadly violence erupted at a disputed Iranian exile camp inside Iraq early Sunday, leaving international observers scrambling to determine the cause of the bloodshed and the number of casualties.

Provincial police said 24 people in Camp Ashraf were killed, but representatives of the group, known as Mujahedeen Khalq, or the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, said more than 50 people had been killed.

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The dissidents accused the Iraqi government of the killings. Baghdad said an internal dispute was to blame.

The United Nations mission to Iraq, which has been closely involved in trying to find a viable long-term solution for dissidents, said it did not have a clear picture what happened.

‘‘The only thing we can confirm is there are a lot of casualties,’’ said Eliana Nabaa, the spokeswoman for the UN mission to Iraq. ‘‘How, why, when? It’s difficult to assess.’’ Camp Ashraf, a Saddam Hussein-era center northeast of Baghdad, had been home to about 100 members of the MEK before Sunday’s events. It once held about 3,000 of the group’s followers.

The MEK opposes Iran’s clerical regime and until last year was labeled a terrorist group by the United States. Thousands of other MEK members who had lived in Camp Ashraf agreed to move to a Baghdad-area camp last year. They remain in a country that does not want them as a resettlement abroad drags on.

A spokesman for the MEK’s parent group, the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, alleged that those killed died in a raid launched by Iraqi security forces early Sunday. The spokesman, Shahin Gobadi, said some of those killed were found with hands cuffed behind their backs.

Gobadi said that 52 people inside the camp were killed, and he provided photos allegedly from the scene that showed several people that appeared to have been killed with gunshots. It was not possible to independently verify the authenticity of the photos.

Iraqi officials offered conflicting accounts.

Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister, said a preliminary inquiry suggests several camp residents died as a result of infighting inside the facility. He denied that Iraqi forces were involved in the violence, and said authorities are still trying to determine the number of casualties.

Gobadi dismissed the government spokesman’s claim as ‘‘absolute lies.’’

Major General Jamil al-Shimari, a provincial police chief who oversees the external protection of the camp, reported at least 24 people killed.

Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard welcomed news of the MEK members’ deaths, which it called ‘‘divine revenge.’’

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