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Iraqi Governor Says 36 Iranian Exiles Detained

Members of the Iranian opposition-in-exile protest in Camp Ashraf on July 28.

Members of the Iranian opposition-in-exile protest in Camp Ashraf on July 28.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Iraqi police have arrested 36 Iranian exiles on rioting charges after clashes with Iraqi forces at their camp killed at least seven exiles, but an Iraqi official has said they would not be repatriated to Iran.

Iraqi forces on July 28 took control of Camp Ashraf on the Iranian border, home to the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran (also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, MKO) dissident group for two decades, sparking confrontations between police and residents who fear eviction.

Residents said 13 people died in the clashes, many of them shot dead by police, and many others wounded. Iraq's government said seven died, most of them because they threw themselves under police vehicles.

Abdul Nassir al-Mehdawi, governor of Diyala province, which has jurisdiction over Ashraf, confirmed 36 had been arrested the day after the clashes.

"Their cases are being investigated now. They are being charged with inciting trouble," Mehdawi said on August 3. "We will deal with them according to Iraqi law; we won't send them back to Iran."

Although Iraq, Iran and the United States call the MKO a terrorist organization, it enjoyed a degree of protection by the U.S. military after the 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

Iraq formally took charge of Camp Ashraf in January.

Iraq's Shi'ite-led government has said it wants to close the camp and send residents to Iran or a third country, a proposal they are bitterly resisting. The dissidents fear they will be imprisoned or executed if they are sent to Iran.

Some human rights groups and MKO sympathizers in the West, who have been highly critical of the way Iraq has handled Ashraf, say closing the camp and driving residents out against their will would violate international human rights law.

"The arrested people didn't commit any crime against anyone," Ashraf spokesman Shahriar Kia said from the camp. "They just picked up some random people. It is just an excuse for their measures against Camp Ashraf. It's a conspiracy."

He added that the detainees were now on hunger strike.

The MKO was given shelter in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, who fought an eight-year war against Iran in the 1980s.

Iraq's government, which includes former Hussein opponents who lived in exile in Iran, has a close relationship with Iran.

Mehdawi said some of the 36 would be released but others would have to face trial. "We have two seriously injured Iraqi police. If they die, some of the detainees will go to court to face criminal charges," he said.