India set to evacuate all Indians from Iraq

sushma-iraqTaking a “proactive approach,” the Indian government is looking to evacuate all Indians from a rapidly disintegrating Iraq. The government has prepared a plan to deploy aircraft from the Indian Air Force and Air India to evacuate the estimated 10,000 Indian in Iraq. Around 100 are still believed to be in the conflict zone.

The decision to evacuate those still in Iraq came after a high-level meeting on June 29, between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and India’s envoys to the Gulf countries and ambassadors of Gulf countries posted in India. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth and officials of the National Crisis Management Committee were also present at the meeting.

“The phase of facilitation of Indian nationals in Iraq in the areas which are not in the conflict zone is now well and truly underway,” Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesperson of India’s external affairs ministry, said in Delhi. The evacuation plan was firmed up against the backdrop of steadily deteriorating security situation in the oil-rich Gulf country. On June 29, the Sunni Jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) declared its chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as “the caliph” and the “leader of Muslims everywhere”. In a violence campaign, the group has taken control of a number of key cities, oil fields and border crossings in north and western Iraq.

Earlier, the Indian government was mostly concerned about rescuing Indians from the conflict zone, but the fragile security situation has goaded it to ensure that most of 10,000 Indians who live in Iraq return home. Air India planes have been kept on standby for a quick response deployment to Iraq. Along with those, military transport aircraft and naval vessels are also on standby. However, India is, for the time being, using commercial flights that are still operating from Iraq’s main cities, including Najaf, Karbala, Basra and Baghdad. Syed Akbaruddin said that more than 600 Indian nationals will return week. He added that all national assets are in readiness to assist Indian nationals who are in need.

The government has decided to send additional two teams to Baghdad to help with the paperwork. The external affairs ministry has set up camp offices in Najaf, Karbala and Basra to help out Indians in Iraq do not have the legitimate paperwork, and need special assistance. Indian officials are also busy seeking Indians at homes and places of work, asking them to leave Iraq while the airports are still open. The spokesperson also said that 60 Indians from Najaf, 30 from Karbala and four from Baghdad have left Iraq on June 30.

The spokesperson shared that the government continues to be in touch with the 46 Indian nurses stranded in the militant stronghold of Tikrit and that they were unharmed. Iraqi armed forces recently launched their first counteroffensive against the rebel Sunni militants in Tikrit.

“We have made contact with them. They are unharmed, they needed some funds and that has been provided. We are in a state of readiness for whatever is needed,” said Syed Akbaruddin.

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