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Questions Raised Over U.S. Role After Iranian Dissidents Raided by Iraqi Forces

Iraqi forces are shown here raiding Camp Ashraf in late July. (Courtesy of the National Council of Resistance of Iran)

Thousands of Iranian dissidents living in a camp outside of Baghdad were attacked by Iraqi forces last month in spite of assurances by the Iraqi government that they would be treated "humanely," leading to questions about what the U.S. government and military can or should do to ensure their protection. 

The Iranians, part of Iran's Mujahideen-e-Khalq movement, have lived in Iraq for decades and helped provide valuable intelligence to the West in 2002 on Iran's nuclear program. 

U.S.-led forces had provided security for the group throughout the Iraq war -- until the beginning of this year when Iraqi forces took control. 

But despite assurances the Iranians would not be forced out or harmed, Iraqi forces clashed with those at Camp Ashraf  in late July, in a deadly operation that one member affiliated with the group said left 11 dead and more than 500 injured. 

"They violently beat residents who were peacefully resisting the incursion," the member of the affiliated National Council of Resistance of Iran, who has been in constant contact with the residents, told FOX News in an e-mail. "The next day they brutally chased and ran over residents with Humvee armored vehicles and loaders. They also used live rounds of ammunition against the unarmed people of Ashraf." 

During the raid on the 3,500 members of the group, U.S. forces stood by and watched. 

Click here to see video of the raid. 

But U.S. officials noted that their hands were tied, since Western forces transferred control of the camp to the Iraqi government in February and handed over control of all cities to Iraqi forces at the end of June. 

"Iraq is a sovereign nation," said Central Command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Bill Speakes. "We were monitoring the situation and communicating to the appropriate authorities." 

And officials said the Iraqi operation began as a legitimate one, with the government trying to establish a police station in the community -- something it has tried to do for months. 

The Iraqis apparently tried to negotiate with the residents. But a State Department official said they were "met by significant and fierce resistance." The Camp Ashraf residents allegedly started throwing rocks and using knives against the Iraqi forces, triggering the violent clash. 

But U.S. officials said the response by the Iraqis was heavy-handed.

"We would have handled it differently. It resulted in a heavy use of force," the State Department official said, adding that U.S. diplomats have lobbied for an investigation. 

State Department spokeswoman Laura Tischler said the United States is working to make sure the Iraqis follow through on their earlier pledge to ensure the dissidents are treated humanely. 

"We are working with the relevant authorities to ensure the Iraqi government meets its assurances," she said. 

Ali Safavi, a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said it's time for the United States to wrest control of the camp from the Iraqis. 

"Despite handing over the protection of Ashraf to the Iraqi government, the United States has the responsibility to monitor and if the Iraqi government does not protect them ... the United States government has to take back responsibility for the protection of the residents of Ashraf," he said. "Obviously the Iraqi government has not honored its commitment." 

The other group member who provided details to FOX News said the raid was ordered after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki bended to pressure from the Iranian regime to destroy it or force the residents out. 

The member wrote in the e-mail that the Iranians put more pressure on Iraq in the wake of the protests that broke out in Iran following the disputed presidential election in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner. 

"The Iraqi prime minister personally oversaw the attack and its aftermath," the member said, noting that the camp has not been totally destroyed and Iraqi forces are still stationed there -- "and in all probability are preparing for further attacks." 

In reaction to the raid, supporters of the group have been staging a hunger protest outside the White House for 27 days. 

FOX News' Jennifer Griffin and Justin Fishel contributed to this report.