Iraq’s Ministry of Defense has announced that the remains of 128 Iraqi military men have been repatriated from Iran, the soldiers were killed during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. The Ministry of Defense utilized DNA testing on the remains to accurately identify each soldier by name of record. It has announced to the public that relatives of the returned soldiers should visit the ministry to take possession of the remains of their loved ones.

The 30-year anniversary of the ceasefire, setup by the United Nations, between Iraq and Iran will be this August. The IranIraq war started in 1980 and lasted 8 years, it was initiated by Saddam Hussein to exploit the chaotic state of the post 1979 Islamic Revolution country. The Saddam Regime executed a multi-front incursion into their northern neighbor to capture major seaports and oilfields. The Iraqi military was forced to eventually retreat due to their forces being spread too thin, they also did not have sufficient air support and were exposed to flanking.

The conflict evolved into an expensive stalemate that resulted in large amounts of casualties. Eventually both nations entered a state of total war that included the use of guerrilla warfare, the targeting of civilians, and chemical weapons. The conflict cost both countries billions and around 500,000 soldiers were killed between both sides, it is estimated that nearly an equal number of civilians were killed as well. Unexploded ordinance and landmines from the war still litter the land near Basra, Iraq and throughout the mountainous regions of Kurdistan that share Iran’s border.

The returning of the remains may be a political play in an effort by Iran to gain good favor with the Iraq newly forming Iraqi government. It is expected to be built upon heavy Iranian influence since Muqtada al-Sadr won the parliamentary elections. His alliance has a great deal of Iranian support and Iraq’s paramilitary Hashd al-Shaabi forces receive a large amount of backing from the Iranian government too.

The International Committee of the Red Cross was heavily involved with the transaction and acted as an intermediary between the two countries. The ICRC head in Iraq, Patrick Youssef said, “Over 25 years have passed since the guns fell silent, yet thousands of families on both sides still don’t know what happened to their loved ones. It is vital that families know the fate of their missing sons if they are to reach any kind of closure and deal with their pain.” The Iranian mission head, Oliver Martin said, “We applaud the steps already taken jointly to recover human remains from the Iran-Iraq war. In particular, today’s ceremony is only possible thanks to the cooperation and determination of the Iranian and Iraqi governments.”

Featured image: Shalamcha border crossing, near Basra, Iraq. The remains of Iraqi soldiers are repatriated. | [CC BY-NC-ND] ICRC/T. Hasson