Govt monitoring Iraq situation as concern mounts for Indians

Written by Reuters | New Delhi | Updated: Jun 18 2014, 03:03am hrs
Amid mounting concerns over safety of Indians stranded in Iraq, India today explored the possibility of ground-level cooperation with Iraqi authorities to assist its citizens in violence-hit areas in the Gulf nation and set up a control room here to provide information to their families.

Following a direction from External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, a "crisis management meeting" reviewed all aspects of the assistance that can be provided to the Indian nationals stuck in the country.

Around 46 nurses are stranded in Tikrit, besides nearly 40 other Indians in Mosul. Insurgent outfits have seized the two cities.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said Swaraj was herself "monitoring and reviewing" the situation on a regular basis.

Earlier, Secretary (East) Anil Wadhwa met Iraqi Ambassador Ahmad Tahsin Ahmad Berwari and both of them discussed the possibilities of ground-level cooperation in assisting Indian nationals in violence affected areas.

Asked whether the government was considering evacuating the nurses from Tikrit, sources said the roads in Tikrit and Mosul are not suitable for any movement at present.

Akbaruddin said the Indian Embassy in Baghdad was sending updated reports to the government on their contacts with the Indian nationals in the affected areas. He said government was monitoring the situation on an hourly basis.

Official sources said the Indian Mission in Baghdad was in touch with the Iraqi government and the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) to ensure the safety of all Indians stranded in the violence-affected areas of that country.

The decision to set up a round-the-clock control room at the External Affairs Ministry to provide information to all concerned was taken at the crisis management meeting.

In response to a request by the Indian government, a team of International Red Crescent contacted the nurses in Tikrit and reported back to the Indian authorities that they were well, the sources said.

In Thiruvananthapuram, Minister for Non-Resident Keralites Affairs K C Joseph told the Kerala Assembly that the government had information that the nurses stranded in Tikrit were safe.

The Indian Embassy in Baghdad has already set up a a 24- hour helpline to offer assistance to Indian nationals there. Over 10,000 Indians are estimated to be currently living in Iraq.

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had already written to Swaraj seeking urgent steps for safe evacuation of the Keralites.

The government had on Sunday asked Indians residing in Iraq to consider leaving the country in view of the "precarious" security situation. In an advisory, the government had also asked people not to travel to Iraq.

The militants in the country had intensified their offensive and reached within 60 kilometres of Baghdad.

Strongly condemning the violence in Iraq, the government yesterday had said it was "deeply concerned" with the deteriorating security situation in that country resulting from recent attacks and taking over of some cities, including Mosul and Tikrit, by terrorist outfits since June 8.

Terming the attacks a "direct threat to the security and territorial integrity" of Iraq, the Ministry of External Affairs had said India remained strongly committed to the "emergence of a stable, peaceful, united and democratic Iraq" which is in the interest of regional and global peace.

"The Government of India strongly condemns such attacks and firmly stands by the government and people of Iraq in their fight against international terrorism and in their efforts to preserve the unity and territorial integrity of the friendly country of Iraq," it said.