AsiaIraqSouthern Asia

Stranded nurses, workers in Iraq safe, assures Indian envoy

Baghdad, June 16 The Indian nurses stranded in Tikrit, the town seized by the fighters from Al Qaeda-influenced Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) last week, are completely safe, the Indian embassy in Iraq Monday said.

“The International Red Crescent Society volunteers visited the 46 Indian nurses that were stranded in a hospital they were working in since last week,” India’s Ambassador A. Ajay Kumar told IANS from Baghdad Monday.

In all, there are 46 Indian nurses stranded in Tikrit – most of them from Kerala – and 41 construction workers are in Mosul, the embassy said.

“Till now, they are completely safe,” Kumar assured.

The nurses sought assistance from the Indian embassy Friday as they were caught in the conflict zone after armed militants seized Tikrit city, 140 km northwest of Baghdad, and took control of the abandoned posts of Iraqi security forces.

The nurses were sending SOS to their friends and families over the last week.

They could not be moved to any other places as all the areas around the town were highly unsafe, an official said.

“The volunteers found them completely safe and working in the hospital,” Ambassador Kumar added.

Tikrit is the hometown of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, who was executed eight years ago.

Meanwhile, the Indian mission in Iraq has been considering a slew of measures to ensure safety of an estimated 18,000 Indian citizens as the week-long strife intensified in the restive northern parts of the country.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and keeping all options ready. So far, everything is under control and there is nothing to worry,” Kumar told IANS by phone from Baghdad Sunday.

Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have seized the cities of Mosul and Tikrit in the northern region of the oil-rich Arab nation and were moving closer to Baghdad.

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani exhorted all able-bodied Iraqis to take up arms as the advancing Sunni militants captured more towns and started moving towards Baghdad.

Depending on how the security situation unfolds in the volatile northern parts of the country, the Indian embassy plans to evacuate Indians from Mosul, the conflict-ridden second largest Iraqi city, Tikrit, and other nearby towns and villages, the ambassador said.

According to him, the Indian citizens in Baghdad are completely safe, though Indian workers in the restive northern region have raised concerns over their safety with the embassy.

However, the exact number of Indians stranded in Iraqi provinces was not officially available as most of the expatriate are not registered with the embassy.

“We are keeping all options open, as an ‘element of uncertainty’ prevails in such areas,” Kumar added.

The ambassador said the mission has been mulling possible measures that can be carried out in an emergency.

“We are planning to transport the citizens from various cities in the Iraq’s north to the Irbil, capital of autonomous Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq, and then flying them out to India, in a day or two,” Kumar said. Irbil lies 88 km east of Mosul.

“We are also considering airlifting our citizens with helicopters,” the ambassador said, adding that a few Indians have already been airlifted from Iraqi city of Samarra, 125 km north of Baghdad, along with other foreign citizens.

After the Indian government revoked the advisory against travel to Iraq, which was in operation from 2004 till May 2010, the number of Indian workers has been steadily increasing in the more developed and peaceful Kurdistan region (KRG) comprising Irbil, Sulaimaniya and Dohuk governorates, with better salaries and working conditions in steel mills, oil companies and construction projects, an embassy statement said.

The number of Indians in KRG is estimated to be around 15,000.

Indians, with or without travel documents, have been advised to seek assistance from the Indian Embassy in Baghdad and a 24-hour help-line has also been set up to assist the stranded citizens.

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