Around 40 Indians working on projects near the Iraqi city of Mosul were kidnapped by suspected ISIS militants when they were being evacuated from the area ravaged by the war between the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad and Sunni jihadis.
The 40 Indians were waylaid when they were being evacuated from the war zone because of fear for their safety in view of the spiralling civil war. Mosul, the heart of the oil-rich region dominated by ethnic Kurds, was captured by ISIS raiders before being retaken by the ‘peshmargas’, the Kurd militia.
A worried Indian government responded to the crisis by getting in touch with Iraqi authorities and by dispatching former ambassador to Iraq Suresh Reddy. Reddy, recently appointed as special envoy to Asean and known to have contacts among Iraqis, was on his way to Mosul.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who reviewed the situation with foreign policy and security experts, has directed that no effort be spared to ensure the safe return of hapless Indian workers. Sources in the government said the PM has asked all sources to be tapped for locating the workers. National security advisor A K Doval is coordinating the rescue effort.
The 40 Indians are construction workers. There are around 46 Indian nurses in Tikrit, the hometown of late Saddam Hussein. Some 14 of the nurses want to leave while others are still willing to hang on, said sources.
However, it is recognized that bringing back the hostages is going to be a huge challenge. There is no authority whose writ runs in Mosul and adjoining areas. Also, while the preliminary estimate has it that the abductors were from ISIS, there is no confirmation, nor a clue to the specific gang which carried out the abduction.
Negotiating with ISIS, whose brutality has shocked even hardened al-Qaida commanders, can be a tough order, that is if they are identified and are willing to come to the table at all. Last week, ISIS traumatized the world by releasing pictures of its fighters shooting unarmed Iraqi soldiers in cold blood.
So far, there is no clarity on the demands of the Islamic militants.
Mosul, a prominent oil exploration and trade city with a large population of expats, has been in the midst of the turmoil set off by the determined bid by ISIS bid to push towards Baghdad and unseat the Nouri Al Maliki regime.
The Sunni-Shia overtones of the clash have seen the official forces being forced on to the back foot. ISIS rebels are believed to be not more than 60km from Baghdad.