Why they were killed is a matter of bitter and angry disagreement for the investigation to sort out
During the night of April 8, there was a hail of gunfire at Camp Ashraf, about 60 kilometres north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, in which 34 people were killed and another 325 wounded.
The victims are Iranian dissidents who fled their country in the early 1980s and were given refuge in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, then at war with the new Islamic regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran.
But why these people were killed and wounded two weeks ago, and by whom, is a matter of bitter and angry disagreement that a United Nations investigation will try to sort out.
The Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki admits its troops killed three of the Camp Ashraf Iranians when they threw rocks at army vehicles.
But the Baghdad government says the rest were shot by the Camp Ashraf guards themselves.
This plays to widely circulated reports that the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI), which controls the 3,400 people in the camp, has become a cult.
Former members and human rights organizations have reported the leadership bans anyone leaving on pain of death and maintains prisons where torture is frequently used.
Some escaped PMOI camp inmates claim the organization recruits young people from overseas Iranian communities, including Canada.
The youths go to Camp Ashraf for a "tour" of several weeks and in many cases have not been allowed to leave or have chosen not to.
Some human rights organizations have documented dozens of cases of both teenage boys and girls remaining at the camp after their "tours."
In 2004, Canadian officials visited the camp to interview a young woman, 17-yearold Somaye Mohammadi, on behalf of her Iranian-Canadian father, Mustafa Mohammadi, who believed she was being held against her will.
The purpose of the interview was frustrated when PMOI officials refused to allow the Canadian diplomats to interview the young woman in private.
A 2006 report from Toronto’s Centre for Thought, Dialogue and Human Rights in Iran names seven Canadian girls and three boys among the dozens of teenagers at Camp Ashraf.
Their status now is unknown.
The PMOI is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and Canada, and until recently was on a similar European Union list.
But supporters of the PMOI, including among the Iranian diaspora from which the group draws its funds and considerable political support, say the attack on Camp Ashraf was a planned and purposeful massacre by Iraqi troops on behalf of, or as a favour to, the Iranian government in Tehran.
PMOI leaders, such as Massoud Rajavi and his wife Maryam, point out that like Iran, Iraq is now ruled by the country’s Shiite Muslim majority after the 2003 ouster by the U.S.-led coalition of the secular Sunni Muslim regime of Saddam Hussein.
This scenario carries some weight because in July 2009, six months after the Americans handed over control of Camp Ashraf to the al-Maliki government, Iraqi security forces raided the camp.
Eleven Iranians were killed and 500 injured.
The al-Maliki government has said PMOI will no longer be allowed to mount operations against Iran from Iraqi soil.
In the past few days, Baghdad has said that all camp members must leave Iraq by the end of this year, either for Iran or some third country.
The PMOI was founded in Iran in 1965 by a group of Islamic Marxist college students opposed to the corrupt and degenerate rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
But the group has always, and continues to arouse, strong emotions not least among American movers and shakers.
Some, such as hard line officials in the administration of former president George W. Bush and including his vicepresident Dick Cheney, see the PMOI as a liberation movement and a useful ally against the Iranian regime.
Officials claim to have received from PMOI important intelligence about Iran’s nuclear development program.
Others point out that PMOI began life as a vehemently anti-American organization that used terrorist attacks to kill at least six Americans in Iran during the reign of the Shah.
This view holds that nothing much has changed, that despite the PMOI claiming to have become purely a political party, its ideology remains antipathetic to American and western civic values.
Iran with the PMOI in power would be no better than the Islamic regime now ruling in Tehran, says this view.
By Jonathan Manthorpe