Iraqi leader denies holding 7 Iranian dissidents

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Associated Press

Posted on September 20, 2013 at 3:34 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 20 at 3:36 PM

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq denied Friday that it is holding seven missing members of an Iranian dissident group following a deadly attack on its compound north of Baghdad earlier this month.

The group accuses Iraq of detaining the Camp Ashraf residents and of planning to transfer them to Iran against their will.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denied holding the seven on his official website. His statement also reiterated officials' claims that Iraqi forces were not behind the Sept. 1 shooting at the camp that killed 52 Mujahedeen-e-Khalq members.

Iraq has pledged to investigate the killings. It is impatient with efforts to resettle more than 2,800 former camp residents abroad.

Group spokesman Shahriar Kia blasted al-Maliki's statement as a "ridiculous claim" and charged that the government is blocking an investigation into the killings.

Meanwhile, 34 members of Congress urged U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to cut American assistance to Iraq if the government fails to facilitate the release of the seven individuals being held and improve security at Camp Liberty, where the rest of the group are living while they await resettlement overseas.

"The message does not seem to be getting through," the lawmakers said in a letter Friday. "We must do a better job at holding the government of Iraq accountable."

Members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, which is strongly opposed to Iran's clerical regime, were welcomed into Iraq by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s during the brutal war with neighboring Iran.

Their fortunes turned sharply with the Iraqi dictator's toppling in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Iraq's current Shiite-led Iraqi government, which has strengthened ties with Tehran, considers their presence in the country illegal.

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