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R. Cross: Iran To Free 2,000 Iraqis

April 5, 2000

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Iran will soon release up to 2,000 Iraqi prisoners who had been reported missing during the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war, the head of the Red Cross in Iraq said Wednesday.

Beat Schweizer said he expected the release to take place Saturday at the Iran-Iraq border. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been negotiating the release with the Iranian government, which earlier this year allowed a delegation to visit Iraqi POWs the Red Cross had not seen before.

A Tehran daily, Iran, quoted Iranian Brig. Gen. Mohammad Balar on Wednesday as saying the prisoners were being freed as a humanitarian gesture to mark last month’s Eid Al-Adha, one of the most important holidays on the Islamic calendar. Balar is the spokesman for Iran’s POW commission.

In Iraq, the state-run weekly al-Ialam quoted Fahmi al-Qeisi, head of the Foreign Ministry’s legal department, as saying the release confirms Iraqi claims that ``there are thousands of Iraqi prisoners held in Iranian jails.″

Several families in Baghdad were preparing to head for the border even though the authorities have not yet said who will be released.

``I haven’t lost hope of his return. He is in my heart. I feel his presence every hour, every day,″ said Suad Abbas whose son Mahmoud Abdulkarim has been missing since 1982.

Suad still cleans Mahmoud’s room every day, wipes his picture and makes sure that his personal belongings are in place.

Sabah Hassoun was 22 and pregnant when she lost her husband in 1981. Her daughter is now in medical school. ``Shayma knows about her father through the family album only,″ she said.

``Inside I have faith I am going to see him. I am 41 now. He may not recognize me,″ she said.

Iraq, relying on ICRC records, says at least 13,000 of its POWs still languish in Iranian jails. But Schweizer said several thousand Iraqis have chosen to live in Iran and many want to be resettled in third countries.

For both political and personal reasons these prisoners do not want the ICRC to inform their government or families, he said.

Several thousand have also died, he said.

Through ICRC auspices more than 100,000 POWs have been repatriated to both sides. The remaining cases ``are the complicated cases,″ Schweizer said.

Iran accuses Iraq of keeping 2,806 Iranian POWs in its jails.