Iraq and Iran exchange bodies of POWs who died during war

IRAQ and Iran yesterday exchanged the remains of 1,736 soldiers who were captured during the 1980-1988 war and died in captivity, a further step toward normalising relations between the two neighbours.

Iraq handed over the remains of 570 Iranians, and Iran delivered the bodies of 1,166 Iraqi soldiers at the al-Mundhariya border crossing, 100 miles north-east of Baghdad. The ceremony was attended by officials from the ruling Iraqi Baath party and the families of dead prisoners.

Following a similar exchange last week, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said that with yesterday’s repatriation, it was closing the file on the Iranian prisoners who died in its captivity.

There was no immediate comment from Iran, but Tehran has disputed Iraq’s claims that it holds no more Iranian prisoners, dead or alive.

Iraq and Iran fought a bloody eight-year war, leaving about a million soldiers dead or wounded. Nearly 14 years after the ceasefire, enmity remains. Each country accuses the other of harbouring rebels opposed to its government.

The problem of returning POWs has damaged relations between Iraq and Iran for years.

Each state has accused the other of concealing how many prisoners it holds. Iran says Iraq still holds 2,806 of its prisoners, but the Baghdad government denies holding any Iranian POWs.

Since 1998, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been trying to repatriate all remaining POWs, but the agency says it does not know how many people were being held by both sides.

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