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Iran buries 175 military divers killed in 1980s Iraq war

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran laid to rest 175 military divers in an emotional public funeral ceremony on Tuesday, almost three decades after they were captured in war with Iraq and, according to Iran’s military, were buried alive.

State television showed a large crowd gathered in Tehran to commemorate the divers and other soldiers killed in the 1980-88 war whose remains were recently recovered. Several mourners wept openly as prayers were read.

“The divers were the bravest of us... they gave their lives for the independence of our country and the success of our revolution,” Mohsen Rezaie, who led the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in the war, said in an address.

“Iran’s enemies stood by Saddam for the whole eight years of the Sacred Defence,” he added, using a common Iranian term for the war in which Iraq’s then-president Saddam Hussein, the aggressor, received extensive international support.

The public gathering, commemorating a war that continues to shape Iranian politics, followed a more intimate ceremony on Monday evening where mourners read passages from the Koran and laid flowers on the divers’ coffins.

Pictures in Iranian media last month showed the bodies, still dressed in diving gear and their hands crudely tied with wire, being dug up from the Iraqi side of the river border, scene of some of the heaviest fighting, and returned to Iran.

A military spokesman said then that some of the bodies bore no signs of injury, leading him to believe they had been buried alive by their Iraqi captors.

The divers were taken prisoner in 1986 during Operation Karbala 4, an Iranian attempt to break a stalemate on the southern front by crossing the river border, called Arvand Rud by Iranians and Shatt al-Arab by Iraqis, to seize Basra.

Iraqi forces repelled the attack after three days of fighting that claimed thousands of lives on each side. The war ended two years later in 1988, with the borders unchanged and more than a million dead.

The war became a defining episode for the Islamic Republic. Senior figures such as Major General Qasem Soleimani, who leads Iran’s paramilitary activities abroad, started their military careers as young officers in the trenches.

Editing by William Maclean and Dominic Evans