Page last updated at 02:33 GMT, Monday, 1 December 2008

Iraq-Iran war dead are exchanged

BY Greg Morsbach
BBC News

For the first time since 2003, Iran and Iraq have exchanged the remains of soldiers killed in the war between the two countries.

The bodies of 241 soldiers, most of them Iraqis, were handed over at a border crossing near Basra.

It is the first time remains were exchanged since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

It is also the first ever direct contact between Tehran and Baghdad to secure the release of their war dead.

Previously they had done this via third parties or diplomatic channels.

At the Shalamjah border post coffins draped in the Iranian and Iraqi flags were carried in a solemn procession at the handover ceremony.

For the relatives of the fallen soldiers it was an emotional moment.

Many women broke down in tears after waiting for more than 20 years to be reunited with the remains of their brothers, fathers ands sons.

The eight-year Iran-Iraq war claimed the lives of close to a million men.

Forty-one from the Iranian side were taken to the border crossing in exchange for 200 coffins containing the remains of Iraqis.

The International Committee of the Red Cross which organised this weekend's ceremony estimates that tens of thousands of Iraqi and Iranian combatants are still missing to this day.

Now the Red Cross delegates will help the Iranian and Iraqi authorities to identify the bodies.

It is hoped that this gesture of goodwill between Iraq and Iran will mark the beginning of further such exchanges along the border.

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