SHALAMCHA, Iraq (Reuters) - Iran and Iraq on Sunday exchanged the remains of a total of 241 soldiers killed in their 1980-88 war, resuming a swap that had been suspended since shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The bodies of 41 Iranians and 200 Iraqis, most of them unidentified, were handed over at the border crossing point of Shalamcha in southern Iraq, while Iraqi and Iranian military bands played martial music and national anthems.
The bodies came from border areas that witnessed major battles in a war estimated to have killed one million people.
Iranian naval personnel carried the coffins of Iraqi soldiers, wrapped in Iraqi flags, to the border and then crossed into Iraq where they placed the coffins in rows.
Iraqi soldiers then did the same with the coffins of Iranians draped in Iranian flags. Iranian women veiled and shrouded in black threw themselves over some coffins and wailed.
The coffins of the Iranian remains were numbered. Most were marked with “Unidentified,” and the place where they were found.
“Families on both sides have been waiting for this moment,” said Bruno Husquinet, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s Basra office, which supervised Sunday’s exchange.
It was the first such handover since May 2003, two months after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Although the Iran-Iraq war ended 20 years ago, the fate of many soldiers on both sides remains unknown.
“We want to pursue this long unresolved humanitarian case until it is totally closed,” said Mohammed Baghban, the Iranian Consul in Basra.
“There will be more remains to be handed over because there are still people missing,” he said.
Writing by Aseel Kami; editing by Michael Christie