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All 46 Nurses of Kerala in Iraq Freed, Heading Home Tonight

July 04
21:55 2014

India claims success for its diplomatic initiatives

By TN Ashok / Diplomatic Editor

New Delhi, July 04 : On a day of dramatic and swift developments, India today managed to free all the 46 stranded nurses from strife torn Iraq and they are all heading back home tonight to Kochi on a special Air India flight. The news of the nurses release comes as great relief to their kith and kin   after developments last night spread gloom all over India with extreme concerns about their safety.

An spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry, Syed Akbaruddin, told newsmen today that an Air India flight had already taken off for Baghdad and the nurses would be brought back in it late tonight with the first stop being Kochi and next Delhi if necessary. An officer at the level of Joint Secretary would be accompanying them on the flight. Some 70 other Indians evacuated from non-conflict zones booked on commercial flights would also board the same flight as a national assets were being deployed.

The nurses are in touch with the relief and rescue officers of the Indian embassy in Baghdad and they are being transported to Irbil where a camp has been set up to receive them and bring them to Baghdad.

The spokesman claimed that the freeing of the nurses was a”Diplomatic Triumph “for India climaxing intensive/extensive diplomatic initiatives by the External Affairs Minister Ms Sushma Swaraj and the Secretary East, MEA Anil Wadhwa and the team of dedicated officers coordinating rescue and relief efforts of stranded Indians with officials in the Indian embassy in Baghdad. Indian embassy officials have been working tirelessly for the last fortnight or so in identifying, locating, contacting and bringing back stranded Indians.

“These efforts were made at the highest level by the external affairs minister with her counterparts not only in Iraq but also in several other gulf countries where all national assets were deployed at the diplomatic level even as efforts were made at the ground level”, he said adding that all details would be revealed after all Indians in conflict and non-conflict zones of Iraq have been evacuated to places of safety.

“We have won a small battle in freeing the nurses but the war is still on in Iraq and a large number of Indians are still stranded in conflict zones and we will redouble our efforts to rescue and bring them back home”, he said.

“Diplomatic effort or initiative is albeit only the front door in such a war like situation and all other doors such as the back door and trap doors were used to ensure stranded Indians were safe and unharmed and that rescue efforts to bring them back went unhindered”, he said.

It was not clear as to how the nurses were freed or released by the captors after disturbing reports poured in yesterday amid a pall of gloom that they were being taken from hospitals in Tikrit to Mosul reportedly by ISIS fighters on grounds that they were being evacuated to places of safety as nationalist forces could descend on the district anytime to over run them on engage them in battle that could result in collateral damage to the nurses in the hospitals. The nurses were reportedly unwilling to leave on advice from Indian embassy.

We did not tell you earlier that a team was already put in place in Irbil to receive the nurses as sensitive operations for their release were on “, the spokesman said.

Asked if the Prime Minister’s office and the National Security Advisor were involved in the rescue operations of the nurses as also others stranded in Iraq, the spokesman said, “The Prime Minister is hands on this effort to rescue Indians.” However , it was beyond his jurisdiction to comment on inter-ministerial efforts on the details of what each ministry was doing in the rescue and relief works, he said.

My function is to divulge to you the diplomatic initiatives being taken, he said.

There are more than 10,000 Indians stranded in strife torn Iraq and 2,000 of them have expressed their desire to leave the country for home. 1500 Indians have signed up for coming home. This includes Indians in both the conflict ridden northern parts of Iraq and non-conflict zones in southern part of the country.

The spokesman said that India would not rest on laurels after getting the nurses released but intensify efforts to locate and bring back all Indians working in Iraq from both the conflict and non conflict zones.

Asked how the Nurses decided to return while in the 1st instance majority of them had opted to remain in the hospitals in Tikrit where they were working, the spokesman said it was a judgement call they took. Their assessment in the first instance was they were safe and unharmed but as hostilities escalated between the ISIS rebel fighters and nationalist forces over time, they apparently felt threatened and unsafe and hence opted to return.

On how embassy officials would handle their trauma of having worked in a warn torn country, The spokesman said the best way to heal their trauma and provide quick relief is to unite them with them with their kith and kin and friends.

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