Two bodies feared to be those of British hostages were handed over to British authorities in Iraq as Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Saturday his thoughts were with their families.There were, however, disparities between London's account of how they were received and that of the Iraqi government, neither of which was immediately able to identify the bodies.
Both governments were also unable to say whether the men were among five - an IT consultant and his four bodyguards - kidnapped from the Iraqi finance ministry in Baghdad on May 29, 2007.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said forensic tests were underway to establish the identities of the bodies and how they died.
"The prime minister was saddened and dismayed by the news that the remains of two bodies have been passed to the British embassy in Baghdad," Brown's Downing Street office said in a statement.
"His thoughts are with the families of the five men who were taken hostage in 2007."
It said Brown had been in "close contact" with his Iraqi counterpart Nuri al-Maliki over the issue, and reiterated calls "for the release of all of the men."
Britain was "working intensively with the Iraqi authorities towards that goal," the statement added.
Miliband said the Iraqi authorities had handed the bodies over to British officials late on Friday.
But Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh contradicted the British minister.
"The kidnappers delivered the bodies directly to the British embassy in Baghdad yesterday (Friday)," Dabbagh told AFP.
"They are suspected to be the hostages but we don't have the proof until the British confirm their identities," he said.
"We are not part of the deal, but as the Iraqi government we encourage all efforts to settle this issue."
Dabbagh did not elaborate on whether a deal had been struck for the hostages' bodies, weeks after an Iraqi militant whose group was suspected of kidnapping the men was freed from a US prison.
Laith al-Khazaali, whose League of the Righteous claims to be holding the hostages, was released June 9 and briefly met his parents in Baghdad before fleeing.
Miliband, meanwhile, said that the hostages' families "will fear the worst for their loved ones."
"This is a terrible moment of uncertainty and fear for them," he added.
Asked if he was surprised by the news, Miliband said: "This is a very distressing development.
"We have never speculated on the outcome of this case although we have been working intensively on it, so the overriding feeling today is one of deep sadness and fear."
Sky News reported that the bodies had been dead for several months.
The Foreign Office said in March that the hostage-takers had sent a video featuring one of the captives to the British embassy in Baghdad.
The video was not broadcast, but reports said it showed IT consultant Peter Moore saying the men were being treated well.
Another video, broadcast on Dubai-based television channel Al-Arabiya, warned a hostage would be killed unless British troops pulled out of Iraq.
Moore was working for US management consultancy Bearingpoint when he was kidnapped.
His guards were employed by a company called Gardaworld.
Little information has been released about them, but it is believed they are called Alan, Jason, Alec and Jason.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.