(CNSNews.com) – Republican lawmakers on Thursday urged the administration to act to protect members of an exiled Iranian opposition group, after a deadly missile attack on an former military base in Baghdad where they are accommodated, supposedly under protection of international law.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its affiliated Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK), which are reviled by the regime in Tehran, said that as many as 23 people were killed in the attack on Camp Liberty (Hurriya), a former U.S. military base near the airport in the Iraqi capital where more than 2,000 MEK members live.
The NCRI’s Paris-based leader, Maryam Rajavi, accused Iranian agents in Iraq’s Shi’ite-led, pro-Iranian government of responsibility for the attack. It is the latest of at least six serious assaults targeting Camp Liberty and the group’s previous home, Camp Ashraf in Diyala province, from which they were removed by Iraqi authorities in 2012.
Rajavi said the NCRI holds the Iraqi government and U.N. “formally and legally accountable for this attack.”
“In our view, however, as was the case in the six previous bloodbaths in Ashraf and Liberty, the Iranian regime’s agents in the government of Iraq are responsible for this attack and the United States and the United Nations are well aware of this fact.”
“Perhaps the administration should spend less time trying to appease Iran and more time working to ensure the safety and security of the Iranian freedom fighters residing in Camp Liberty,” Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said in a statement, calling for the occupants to be moved out of the camp, to other countries.
“Camp Liberty has been attacked several times before with no action from our State Department,” he said. “Secretary [of State John] Kerry has promised we are doing all we can. But those empty promises have delivered nothing, and more people are dead today. Our government must recognize that we have failed to protect the Camp as we have promised to do.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) also condemned the attack.
“With growing Iranian involvement in Iraq, the security situation around Camp Liberty is increasingly risky,” he said. “The Iraqi government made an international commitment to protect the camp’s residents. The U.S. and international community must demand accountability.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, said she was “deeply troubled” by reports on the attack.
“If true, this brutal and unprovoked attack represents a failure by the Iraqi government to honor its obligations to protect the residents at Liberty and must be condemned,” she said.
“Secretary Kerry and the State Department must call for an immediate and impartial investigation into this act of terror, work to bring the perpetrators to justice, and do more to ensure the security of Camp Liberty.”
Poe said the department should send its own people to investigate the attack.
In a statement Kerry said the U.S. condemned the “brutal, senseless terrorist attack” and has been in contact with the Iraqi government to ensure it provides all possible assistance.
The U.S. also urged Baghdad to “provide additional security for the camp’s residents and to find the perpetrators and hold them accountable for the attack,” he said.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres called the attack “a most deplorable act.”
“Every effort must continue to be made for the injured and to identify and bring to account those responsible,” he said. The UNHCR says around 2,200 residents of Camp Liberty are “of concern” to the agency. (“Persons of concern” are those that do not meet the legal definition of refugees, but may be stateless, internally-displaced or similar.)
Claim: Iranian-made missiles
The NCRI said preliminary reports indicated that at least 80 missiles had hit the camp in the attack on Thursday night, setting fire to residential trailers and causing large craters.
More than 20 of the injured had been transferred to hospital in Baghdad, where some had died from their wounds, it said. Among the dead was Hossein Abrishamchi, described as a prominent MEK commander.
NCRI’s deputy director Alireza Jafarzadeh, said at least some of the projectiles used in the attack were Iranian-made Falaq missiles. (Falaq-1 and Falaq-2 are unguided surface-to-surface weapons, which have reportedly been used by Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, in Lebanon and in the Syrian civil war, in which Iran and Hezbollah are backing the Assad regime.)
Iraqi police put the number of missiles that hit Camp Liberty at 16, and said at least 16 soldiers guarding the camp had been injured, the Associated Press reports.
The NCRI/MEK supported Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in a bloody eight year-long war against Iran’s theocratic regime in the 1980s, and it was long designated a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) under U.S. law.
After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam, the MEK were disarmed by agreement and confined to Camp Ashraf. The U.S. subsequently recognized the inhabitants as “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions.
While controversial, the group provided the West with valuable intelligence on the regime in Tehran including, in 2002, information that helped to uncover nearly two decades of covert Iranian nuclear activity.
In 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lifted the FTO designation, citing a public renunciation of violence, the absence of confirmed acts of terrorism for more than a decade, and the group’s “cooperation in the peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf.”
The State Department said at the time, “The United States has consistently maintained a humanitarian interest in seeking the safe, secure, and humane resolution of the situation at Camp Ashraf, as well as in supporting the United Nations-led efforts to relocate eligible former Ashraf residents outside of Iraq.”
Since the move to Camp Liberty in 2012, the occupants have come under attack several times before Thursday, including rocket and mortar attack in February and December of 2013 in which 12 people were killed.
Earlier attacks at Camp Ashraf included deadly assaults by Iraqi security forces.
Since 2011 the UNHCR has been trying to secure relocation of the residents in third countries, but only several hundred have been resettled so far.
Kerry said Thursday the U.S. remained committed to helping the UNHCR relocate the camp residents to “a permanent and safe location outside of Iraq” and called on more countries to respond by welcoming residents and by contributing to a U.N. resettlement fund.