Iran released 700 Iraqi POWs as a goodwill gesture

BBC News Middle East 28/01/02

Thirteen years after they ended an eight-year war, Iran and Iraq have taken steps to resolve some of the outstanding issues hampering closer relations - primarily the fate of prisoners of war.
After talks in Tehran, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri and his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, spoke of their willingness to leave behind the legacy of the conflict.
"Iran is seriously seeking to close this chapter which has lasted long years," Iran's official news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Minister Kharrazi as telling Mr Sabri.
And Mr Sabri "reiterated that his country would do its utmost to do away with the bitter record of the past relations between the two countries," IRNA said.
Iran and Iraq have yet to normalise ties after the war which left nearly one million people dead.
'Close the file'
IRNA said the ministers had promised to resolve all the humanitarian issues in their troubled relations, but gave no details.
However, Mr Kharrazi said closing "the file of humanitarian problems" would have "very positive repercussions on the relations between the two countries".
In the past week, Iran released almost 700 Iraqi prisoners of war.
That matched an earlier move by Baghdad, when it reopened its borders to allow Iranian Muslim pilgrims to visit Shiite shrines in Iraq.
Obstacle to relations
The fate of thousands of POWs is still one of the main issues blocking full normalisation of relations between the two sides, who are still at odds on how many prisoners each other holds.
Tehran has repeatedly denied Baghdad's charges that it has some 29,000 Iraqi prisoners. Iraq says another 60,000 are still missing.
Iran accuses Iraq of detaining about 3,000 of its soldiers, but Baghdad denies holding any Iranian POWs.
Both countries also accuse each other of harbouring opposition activists.
Iran regularly denounces Iraq for backing its main opposition People's Mujahideen Organisation, while Baghdad accuses Tehran for giving support to Iraqi Shiite Muslim dissidents.
Source: BBC World