Remains of 13 Allied Dead Handed Over to Forensic Experts With AM-Gulf-Iraq, Bjt
DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ The remains of five Americans turned over by Baghdad were en route to the United States on Wednesday, as civil unrest in Iraq appeared to threaten efforts to forge a permanent cease-fire.
The remains of the Americans, along with those of eight Britons, earlier were flown by the Red Cross from Baghdad to a U.S. military mortuary at the Dhahran air base, where forensics experts examined them.
The release of the bodies came after a day’s delay because the strife in much of Iraq delayed the transport of the bodies.
The five Americans were flown to the central U.S. military mortuary in Dover, Del., said a Pentagon official in Washington.
Earlier, U.S. sources said 14 remains had been returned by Baghdad. The Pentagon official gave no reason for the change.
He said initial identification of all five Americans had been made, but that the next of kin of four had not been notified. He did not comment on whether the British remains had been identified.
Other U.S. officials in Washington earlier identified one of the dead as an American flier, Navy Lt. William T. Costen, 27, of St. Louis, an A-6 pilot from the aircraft carrier USS Ranger. His plane was shot down over Iraq on Jan. 18, the second day of the Persian Gulf War.
The Pentagon had listed Costen as missing in action. Confirmation of his death would reduce the number of Americans listed as missing in action to 22.
The Pentagon said 14 of the 22 were lost in the crash of an Air Force AC- 130 gunship and another Navy pilot was believed to have been killed in another crash. But they are technically listed as missing because their bodies have not been recovered.
Also Wednesday, 12 Saudi prisoners of war and civilians were repatriated from Iraq. But the scheduled repatriation of about 500 Iraqi prisoners of war was put off for a third straight day.
Pascal Daudin, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the delay was caused by transportation problems and land mines. He said the mines are being swept by the Iraqi army from a desert highway designated for the move and the repatriation should begin in the next day or so.
Other Red Cross sources said the civil upheaval that is preoccupying Saddam Hussein also was responsible for the delay.
Army units loyal to Saddam were reportedly locked in fierce fighting with Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq and rebel forces in the south.
″There are a lot of problems, but when you put them all together, the political chaos inside Iraq is the main reason,″ said one of the Red Cross sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
″The political instability in Iraq is causing great disorganization,″ said the source. ″You cannot solve simple logistical problems or organize anything in a state of chaos.″
A U.S. military source said the delays have put efforts to gain a permanent cease-fire on hold.
American soldiers, sailors and airmen were returning home as scheduled, but U.S. forces remained in southern Iraq and Kuwait, apparently until the cease- fire is in place.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said allied troops now occupy about 15 percent of Iraq and will hold the territory until a formal cease-fire is worked out.
Anti-government rebels have been fighting government forces loyal to Saddam in several cities in southern Iraq.
″We don’t have any designs on Iraqi territory, but we are not eager to withdraw our forces from there until the situation stabilizes more and it’s clear that Iraq is going to comply with all the relevant U.N. resolutions,″ Cheney said in Washington.
He said it appears Iraq intends to comply with the resolutions.
The return of remaining U.S. troops from the Persian Gulf depends on how soon allied forces can pull back from Iraq, Cheney said.
Most of the American troops returning to the United States are simply token representatives of their units. Many of the major units themselves are still in place.