Iran and Iraq exchange more than 800 POWs

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Iran and Iraq exchanged hundreds of prisoners of war at their border Thursday, the official Iraqi News Agency reported. The move was the first stage of a large-scale swap of thousands of POWs captured in the two countries’ 1980-1988 war.
Iran freed 800 Iraqi prisoners and Iraq released 62 Iranian prisoners at the al-Mundhariya border crossing, INA said. The crossing is 100 miles northeast of Baghdad.
Riyad al-Qaysi, Iraq’s deputy foreign minister, was quoted by the agency as saying that more POWs would be freed shortly.
In Baghdad, the government-controlled newspaper, al-Zawra, said Iran would free 6,000 Iraqi prisoners of war. In Tehran, Iranian television quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying 5,592 Iraqi prisoners would be exchanged for 380 Iranians.
If such numbers are released, it would be the biggest prisoner exchange since 1990 and would mark a major step in the improvement of relations between the two neighbors.
At least 1 million people were killed or wounded in the 1980-1988 war between Iraq and Iran. The fighting ended with a U.N. brokered cease-fire but animosity has persisted over the issue of prisoners.
Iraqi officials say Iran is still holding about 20,000 prisoners since the release of 39,000 soldiers in 1990. Since then, smaller numbers of prisoners have been released frequently.
Prior to Thursday’s release, Iraq had said it held no Iranian POWs. Iran, however, says Baghdad is holding anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 Iranian soldiers.