As the government readies for a possible evacuation of Indians in Iraq, voices within the Ministry of External Affairs are counselling against the move as the majority of the Indians are outside the conflict zone and not in imminent danger. An estimated 10,000 Indians work in Iraq. Most are in the Shi’ite south — Najaf, Karbala and Basra — areas where the situation is completely normal.
Despite the declaration of a “caliphate” or an Islamic state by the ISIS in the parts of Iraq and Syria under their control, there is no threat of a militant advance to the south yet. There is concern that an evacuation would rob thousands of their livelihood.
Officials are emphatic that Iraq is nowhere as bad as Libya was when the government evacuated Indians from that country. But with Parliament set to open on July 7, there is concern that the Modi government could succumb to political pressure to show that it is taking steps for the safety of Indians and may decide to carry out the evacuation.
A decision is likely on July 2. The evacuation operation has already been planned and Indian naval ships, merchant vessels, and Air India are on standby.
However, the view in the MEA, official sources said, is that the main focus of India’s effort should remain on rescuing the 40 workers who were abducted and are being held by the ISIS. This is likely to be a long haul, and several backchannel negotiations are underway to obtain their release.
Another 46 Indians, all women nurses, are in Tikrit, where there is fighting, and efforts are underway to bring them to safety.