Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iran's Forgotten Hostages: Iraqi POWs

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iran's Forgotten Hostages: Iraqi POWs

Article excerpt

Americans are rightly concerned about nine of their countrymen being held in Lebanon by Iranian-directed Hezbollah extremists. Associated Press correspondent Terry Anderson has been held the longest. Few of the women and children pictured on this page, however, have heard from their husbands and fathers since before Anderson was kidnapped on March 16, 1985. They are wives and children of some of the estimated 70,000 Iraqi soldiers captured during their country's eight-year-long war with Iran.

There were periodic exchanges of sick, wounded and elderly prisoners during the fighting, but after the cease-fire negotiated in August 1988, similar exchanges broke down.

Iran, in a political tactic familiar to Americans whose embassy staff was held hostage for 444 days in Tehran, insisted until very recently that before any further exchanges take place, Iraq must withdraw from all Iranian territory, renounce its claim to undivided sovereignty over the Shatt al-Arab waterway that divides the two countries and provides Iraq's only outlet to the sea, and pay war reparations. Now it has dropped the claim for Iraqi withdrawal, but added the demand that all captured Iranians be registered. This is an attempt to obtain the names of Iranian defectors, some of whom have joined resistance groups such as the Iranian People's Mojahedin.

Iraq, which fought the war primarily over the Shatt al-Arab dispute and its charges that the Khomeini regime was instigating rebellion among Iraq's Kurdish and Shi'i citizens, has called for an immediate exchange of all prisoners on humanitarian grounds.

International Red Cross representatives in Iraq are allowed access every six weeks to Iranians held in Iraqi camps. They have had no access to Iraqi prisoners in Iran since Sept. 1, 1987, when resident representatives were expelled from Iran. Access to Iraqi prisoners was restricted after an incident in the Gorgon camp in 1984. …

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