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Aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war – new steps to establish the fate of the missing

14-01-2003 Operational Update

Through its long operational presence in Iraq, the ICRC has become a reference for humanitarian problems. Among these: the fate of people unaccounted for. Talks on the issue resumed in January.

The agreement reached on 18 December 2002 to resume talks on establishing the fate of people unaccounted for since the 1991 Gulf war follows four years of discreet diplomatic efforts by the ICRC. The discussions – held in the framework of a technical sub-committee of a Tripartite Commission including Iraq, Kuwait and the Coalition states – were suspended at the end of 1998.

Kuwait says that over 600 of its nationals – and others - disappeared during the Iraqi occupation, while Iraq says that more than 1,100 of its own nationals have been missing since the Gulf conflict.


Within the framework of the technical sub-committee, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia met on 8 January 2003 in Amman, Jordan; it was the first such meeting since December 1998. The ICRC chaired the meeting, as it had done since the sub-committee was formed after the conflict (see detailed chronology below).


 Background to the search for the people unaccounted for  


At the end of the 1991 Gulf war and in accordance with its mandate, the ICRC made arrangements for the general repatriation of more than 70,000 Iraqis and over 4,000 Kuwaitis and allied prisoners of war, as well as some 1,300 civilian internees and detained civilians. Since then the ICRC has continued to contribute to the efforts of the parties c oncerned to trace all persons unaccounted for.

The Tripartite Commission was set up in April 1991 in an effort to settle humanitarian issues still unresolved after the Gulf War, namely to help ascertain the whereabouts and fate of persons unaccounted for, after the hostilities. It is composed of high-level representatives from Iraq, Kuwait and the Coalition states (Saudi Arabia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States). The ICRC acts as a neutral intermediary between the parties. The first meeting was held in Saudi Arabia in 1991, the others in Geneva. The last one – the 23rd - took place in September 1998.

The technical sub-committee was created in 1994, to allow the same parties to work on a more concrete, case-to-case basis. Until 2 December 1998, this body held monthly meetings in the de-militarized zone on the Iraq-Kuwait border. The 37th session, set for 4 January 1999, was cancelled after the Iraqi authorities told the ICRC that they would not participate.


Since the Iraqi announcement, the ICRC has been consulting with individual members of the commission to try to find a solution. And in 2002, it chaired three meetings in Geneva attended by representatives of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, France, the United States and the United Kingdom.


On 28 November 2002, Iraq informed officially informed the ICRC and the Arab League that it agreed to resume its participation in meetings of the Tripartite Commission. On 18 December, all commission members signed a formal agreement paving the way for the resumption of the sub-committee's work.

 Chronological summary of events  


 April 1991: establishment of the Tripartite Commission.


 1992 : Iraqi authorities maintain they have no Kuwaiti prisoners of war in captivity.


 December 1994: creation of the technical sub-committee.


 July 1994 - February 1996 : Iraq forwards preliminary investigation results for 127 files submitted by Kuwait.


 July 1995 : Iraq announces that it has discovered one Kuwaiti woman, previously unaccounted for. The ICRC repatriated her in 1996.


 July 1995: Saudi Arabia hands over a death certificate for one person whose file has been submitted by Iraq.


 June 1998 : an independent expert travels to Iraq, following information provided by Iraq, concerning the wreckage found in the south of the country believed to be that of a Saudi plane dating back to the Gulf war. The expert concludes that the wreckage is indeed that of a Saudi plane. The ICRC proposes a plan of action to retrieve the mortal remains of the pilot.


 December 1998: suspension of talks within the framework of the Tripartite Commission and the technical sub-committee.


 February 1999: Kuwait informs the ICRC that the body of an Iraqi soldier has been found on its territory. His file has been submitted by Iraq and his mortal remains repatriated to Iraq, under ICRC auspices.


 October 2000: under the auspices of the ICRC, Iraq and Saudi Arabia with the help of an independent forensic scientist, along with aircraft and mine experts, implement the ICRC's plan, proposed in 1998, to retrieve the mortal remains found in the wreckage of a Saudi aircraft.


 January 2001: experts conclude that it is " highly probable " that the remains are those of the Saudi pilot.

 December 2002: an   agreement is signed by all six parties of the Tripartite Commission to resume dialogue. Within the framework of the technical sub-committee, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are due to meet in January 2003, under the auspices of the ICRC.