The International Committee of the Red Cross urged Iran and Iraq Monday to resume exchange of sick and wounded prisoners of war, which Iran suspended after only three days.

The suspended exchange was triggered last Thursday when Iran repatriated only half of the 115 Iraqi POWs slated for release in the initial repatriation. Iraq retaliated by withholding half of the 41 Iranian POWs sent back to Tehran.After a break on Friday, the Moslem Sabbath, reduced prisoner exchanges continued on Saturday and Sunday when Iran suspended the operation.

Tehran said many of the sick or wounded Iraqi prisoners had requested political asylum or had recovered from their wounds and were no longer eligible for repatriation. Iraq has refused to accept the explanation.

The repatriation of sick and wounded POWs was the first significant step toward a permanent peace settlement since Iraq and Iran began a U.N.-mediated cease-fire on Aug. 20.

In Cairo, visiting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said the stalled exchange was due to Iranian hesitation on key issues.

"The Iranians are usually hesitant in taking decisions about important issues. It is natural that they would hesitate in taking a decisive decision about prisoners," Saddam said.

"But, under any circumstances and in one way or another, they will have to find the right way in life," he said.

In Geneva, the ICRC said it has "called on both sides to resume the operation according to their (Nov. 8) agreement in Geneva."

ICRC spokesman Jurg Bischoff blamed both sides for the halt in the prisoner exchange. "Each side had explanations, and both sets of explanations are unacceptable," Bischoff said.