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U.N. experts urge Iraq to probe fate of missing Iranian dissidents

Supporters of Iranian opposition group Mujahadin-e-Khalq (MEK) rally against Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki hours before he is schedul
Supporters of Iranian opposition group Mujahadin-e-Khalq (MEK) rally against Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki hours before he is schedul

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A United Nations group urged Iraq on Monday to swiftly investigate the disappearance of seven Iranian dissidents who vanished in September after a deadly attack on the Iranians' camp near Baghdad.

Last week a senior Iraqi government official said Iraq was hunting militants, still unidentified, who led the deadly attack on the Iranian dissident camp and dismissed suggestions its own security forces were behind the violence.

But the U.N. experts said more was needed from Baghdad.

"We call upon the Government of Iraq to speed up the investigations in order to disclose the fate and whereabouts of the individuals," the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said in a statement.

The working group added that Iraqi forces also appear to have admitted they had held the seven Iranian dissidents at some point.

More than 50 people were killed at the dissident Mujahadin-e-Khalq (MEK) group's Camp Ashraf in September in an attack the United Nations described as "an atrocious crime" and which drew condemnation from the United States and Britain. Assailants took time to conduct execution-style killings and plant bombs.

The MEK, which has accused Iraqi security forces of being behind the attack, is no longer welcome in Iraq under the Shi'ite Muslim-led government that came to power after U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam in 2003.

The last residents moved out of Ashraf to a new base in September. The camp had housed around 100 MEK members at the time of the attack.

MEK, which the U.S. State Department removed from its list of terrorist organizations last year, wants Iran's clerical leaders overthrown and fought on the side of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980s.

"International law clearly requires governments to ensure that all allegations of killings are investigated in a prompt, effective and impartial manner, irrespective of who the perpetrator is," said U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns.

The working group added that "the impunity with which these crimes have been committed is particularly flagrant given the severity of the offences and the alleged evidence of engagement by Iraqi forces in the commission of these crimes."

Iraqi authorities have repeatedly denied involvement in the attack, during which the seven missing camp residents vanished. MEK says they were taken hostage by Iraqi forces and flown to Amara province to be extradited to Iran.

MEK numbered 4,174 members in Iraq up to 2003. The United Nations has resettled some 1,000, while 1,600 have declined to meet with officials, Haider al-Akaili, who is part of an Iraqi committee overseeing the investigation of the attack, said last week. The rest are being resettled.

The MEK has accused the Iraqi government of deliberately targeting them in a series of deadly attacks on their residences in Iraq in recent years.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau editing by Jackie Frank)

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