Bombing in Saddam home town in Tikrit; Indian nurses stuck

600 Indian nationals to be evacuated in the course of this week, says spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin

shreerupa

Shreerupa Mitra-Jha | July 1, 2014 | New Delhi




Forty-six Indian nurses are stuck in crossfire between Sunni militants and the Iraqi army in the conflict zone of Tikrit. Bombing and firing in the area began on Tuesday (July 1).

Informing that the Indian nationals were hiding in the building's basement, the ministry of external affairs (MEA), in its latest statement, described their situation as "extremely delicate". Official MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin stated that "despite the difficulties, we will extricate them." He requested the media to show restraint in contacting them.

Last month, Sunni rebels led by the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), surged out of the Anbar province and seized Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, moving on to the oil refinery centre of Baiji. Thousands fled among reports of extreme atrocity. IS claims to be establishing a caliphate, or Islamic state, on the territories it controls in Iraq and Syria. The jihadists are continuing to entrench their positions in northern and western Iraq.

Meanwhile, the MEA on Tuesday said that it booked tickets for 233 Indian nationals earlier in the day. Most of the evacuees are from northern India , followed by Hyderabad, with the rest hailing from Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Around 1,000 Indians have contacted officials to facilitate their return to India. Almost an equal number, however, want to stay back on their own accord. About 450 Indian workers contacted by the ministry refused to leave work.

Thirty-nine Indians are still in IS's captivity in Mosul; the ministry said they "remain unharmed”.

The MEA has taken a proactive approach for evacuation of at least 600 Indian nationals from Iraq in the course of this week and is in a facilitation phase, according to Akbaruddin.

By adopting a proactive stance, the diplomats are approaching the workers to convince them to leave their place of work and the country. By a facilitation role, the MEA aims to resolve the issues Indian nationals might be facing in leaving the country – paperwork, funding for tickets etc. All Indian workers are being sent through commercial airlines. Airports in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf and Karbala are still operational.

There are mobile teams of Indian officials in all these four places, the MEA said.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who is also the minister for overseas Indian affairs, had a meeting with all ambassadors from the Gulf countries to get an understanding of their assessment of the situation in Iraq and the kind of assistance that can be provided to the Indian nationals – both in the conflict zone and outside – from their respective countries. It was also decided that the part of the welfare fund in Indian missions in the Gulf would be used to help Indian nationals in conflict-ravaged Iraq.

India deployed a warship (used for anti-piracy operations) in the Persian Gulf last Saturday and has also kept jets on standby for rescue operations, reports said. “The national assets will be used, if need be,” Akbaruddin said.

Since there is no Nepalese embassy in Iraq, the Nepal government has requested the Indian government to facilitate the return of their nationals as well to which the Indian government has acquiesced.

Currently, the areas of southern Iraq are considered safe zones.

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