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India prepares for the impact of Iraq crisis

Wednesday, 18 June 2014 - 8:40am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

Government in touch with 46 Kerala nurses stranded in Tikrit

Concerned at the situation evolving in Iraq, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday formed a crisis management group, under the secretary (east) Anil Wadhwa to constantly monitor the situation.

As many as 46 nurses from Kerala stranded in the war-torn country have reported that they were literally prisoners within the hospital, as all security personnel have escaped fearing the wrath of militants.

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group have routed Iraqi army and seized the north of the country in the past week, threatening to dismember the country on sectarian lines. The fighters have been joined by other armed Sunni groups that oppose the present Iraqi government of Noor-al-Maliki.

Besides taking stock of situation and planning any imminent evacuation of Indian nationals, the group will also take stock of economic fallout of the Iraqi crisis on Indian economy. The crisis has come at a difficult time, when the Indian government under prime minister Narendra Modi is battling inflation and attempting to put economy back on rails. The rupee on Tuesday sank to 60.55 to a dollar, its lowest since April 29, on rising crude prices.

India imports nearly four million barrels per day of crude oil -- of which more than half a million barrels per day comes from Iraq. Government sources here said there was no need to panic, as the oil companies were purchasing oil mostly from Iraq's southern oilfields. The southern fields account for approximately three-fourths of the country's total oil production.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbarudin said that the secretary (east), Anil Wadhwa, on Tuesday also met the Iraqi ambassador Ahmad Tahseen Ahmad Berwari. "They discussed possibilities of ground-level cooperation and assistance in helping Indian nationals who are in the affected areas. We shall, of course, be monitoring the situation on an hourly basis and will keep you informed if there are further developments in this regard," he said.

Following a request from the Indian government, a team of International Red Crescent contacted around 46 nurses in Tikrit and reported back to the Indian authorities about their well-being, official sources said. Asked whether the government was considering evacuating the nurses from Tikrit, they said the roads are not suitable for any movement at present. The government had already on Sunday asked Indians residing in Iraq to consider leaving the country.

Terming the attacks a "direct threat to the security and territorial integrity" of Iraq, the MEA in a statement has said that India shall remain strongly committed to the "emergence of a stable, peaceful, united and democratic Iraq" which is in the interest of regional and global peace.

Kerala-based relatives of a nurse Marina Jose were quoted by media as saying that the nurses though, safe were feeling like imprisoned in the hospital premises, with all security staff having vanished. They had spoken to their relatives from Tikrit, which fell recently to the Sunni insurgents. The Kerala government says it first received an SOS call from the nurses on Friday. "The chief minister is in touch with the external affairs minister and has been talking to the girls personally," say officials in the CM secretariat.

The resurgence of militants in Iraq is a big blow to the United States, which spent more than a trillion dollars on its Iraq war, and has provided the Iraqi government billions of dollars in aid to build its structures.

Foreign policy experts believe, it could be the worst ever foreign policy disaster for Washington.

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