Iraq releases Iranian exiles detained after riot

BAGHDAD Wed Oct 7, 2009 9:58pm IST

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi forces released 36 Iranian exiles on Wednesday they had arrested during a riot in July in Camp Ashraf, northwest of Baghdad, a spokesman for the exiles said.

In late July, Iraqi forces took control of the camp northwest of Baghdad. Ashraf has been home to the Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), for two decades and was under the protection of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The raid at the camp, an irritant for the Iraqi government which has close ties to Iran, sparked clashes in which at least seven exiles were killed -- residents say 13 died.

The camp had been protected by the U.S. military until its 3,500 residents were shifted to Iraqi jurisdiction last January under a bilateral security pact.

The camp's residents and the 36 arrested on rioting charges had said they were on hunger strike until they were released.

PMOI spokesman Shahriar Kia, speaking by phone, said the detainees were critically ill because of their hunger strike, which he said had gone on for many days. It was impossible to verify this claim.

The United States considers the PMOI a terrorist organisation, but some human rights lawyers in Washington have urged the U.S. military to retake control of the camp to prevent abuses by Iraqi forces.

(Reporting by Tim Cocks)

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