In a new signal that Iran and Iraq are headed for a U-turn in relations, the two countries plan a high-level meeting today to discuss freeing all remaining prisoners of war and the fate of missing soldiers.
An Iranian diplomat in Baghdad said his government hoped to resolve all "humanitarian issues" with Iraq, referring to POWs and those missing from the two countries' 1980-1988 war that left more than a million dead or injured.The meeting follows the biggest prisoner swap since 1990 - more than 5,000 Iraqis and 300 Iranians were exchanged earlier this month - and could lead to freedom for many more prisoners, some jailed for up to 18 years.
The thaw in the neighbors' stormy relations began with Iraq's state-run media halting its bitter attacks on Iran after Iranian President Mohammed Khatami took office in August. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein pledged to respond to any step by Iran to normalize ties.
Now, even visits by junior Iranian officials are highlighted by Iraq's official press, and the country's most influential newspaper - Babil, owned by Saddam's eldest son, Odai - has repeatedly called for an alliance among Iraq, Iran and Syria.
Under the auspices of the international Red Cross, Iran handed over 5,584 Iraqi POWs in return for three Iranian prisoners and 316 so-called civil law detainees, those that Iraq says were arrested after the conflict.
The Iranian diplomat in Baghdad, speaking to The Associated Press on customary condition of anonymity, said the meeting today would be held at the border post of Mundhariya, 75 miles east of Baghdad.