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Iraqi army opening mortuary

The Iraqi army — with help from American troops — has opened its first Mortuary Affairs Collection Point, giving it a stand-alone facility to process and return to their families the remains of Iraqi security forces members killed in the war.

The facility was opened this week on the Iraqi side of Camp Taji, north of Baghdad. Before the facility opened, the bodies of all Iraqi servicemembers and civilians were handled by American troops. The problem with that system, officials said, was being able to return the remains to the families.

“We decided back in August that we needed a facility so that the Iraqis could control their own soldiers that had been killed in action,” said Air Force Maj. James W. Pank, the senior medical adviser on Camp Taji for a Coalition Military Assistance Training Team.

“The bottom line is to formally respect and turn them over to their families as fast as possible, because it is part of their culture,” Pank said. “They will leave here with an Iraqi flag on their coffin.”

The Iraqi facility will now process all Iraqi bodies brought to the base, including insurgents killed in battle, officials said.

The facility is modeled after a similar American mortuary affairs facility on Camp Taji. Iraqi soldiers were given a five-day course on mortuary affairs, a truncated version of a seven-week course American specialists usually receive.

According to Pank, five more collections points are being built at other Iraqi bases throughout the country.


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