Britain Looks to Identify Human Remains Found in Iraq

The remains of one of five British hostages have been handed over to British authorities in Baghdad, Iraqi officials said Wednesday. The British government said it had received remains but had yet to determine their identity.

In July, British authorities said that it feared that two security workers — Alan McMenemy and Alec MacLachlan — had been killed by their captors.

The British government "cannot yet definitively confirm either that this is the remains of one of the hostages, or which one," Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement.

The return of the body was the result of negotiations between the Iraqi government and a Shiite militant group believed to have been behind the kidnapping, two Iraqi officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

McMenemy and MacLachlan were two of four contractors for Canadian security firm GardaWorld protecting Peter Moore, an IT consultant working in Iraq for BearingPoint, a U.S.-based management consulting firm.

All five men were seized in May 2007 from the Finance Ministry by militants disguised as Iraqi policemen. The bodies of two of the contractors were returned in June.

Though Moore's fate is not known for certain, a videotape showing him in reasonable health was delivered to the British Embassy in Baghdad in March. Miliband's statement said British authorities believe he is still alive.

The militant group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, is seeking the release of Shiite militiamen who are in U.S. custody. It also is accused of organizing a daring attack on a local government headquarters in Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers on Jan. 20, 2007.

The Iraqi government has said it wants Asaib Ahl al-Haq to disarm and play a role in politics once all the hostages have been freed.

In one positive sign, the group promised in August to lay down its weapons and join the political process. The Iraqi government has said it would seek the release of detainees from the group.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Prime Minister Gordon Brown "will leave no stone unturned in the government's efforts to secure the release of the remaining hostages."

The bodies of Jason Swindlehurst, 38 and Jason Creswell, 39, were returned in June. It is not clear exactly how they died, though both had suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

Hopes for the Britons rose in June following the release of Laith al-Khazali, a Shiite militant who had been held in U.S. custody. The kidnappers have demanded the release of militiamen including al-Khazali's brother, Qais al-Khazali, in exchange for the British hostages.

But Kim Howells, an ex-British minister for the Middle East and previously involved in the case, has said that since leaving his post, he has questioned whether Britain had been negotiating with the right people. Attempts to win the release of the Britons have been hampered by dealings with middlemen.