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Iraq: Pressure builds to get nurses out

Friday, 20 June 2014 - 7:30am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

Not a month into his tenure and prime minister Narendra Modi is facing his biggest challenge to date. Forty Indian construction workers have been kidnapped from Mosul in Iraq. And 46 Indian nurses are under siege in a hospital in Tikrit. One of the nurses reminded Modi of his "duty" as prime minister.

"When the floods wrecked havoc in Uttarakhand last year, Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat, sent a special flight to evacuate pilgrims from his home state. Now as prime minister of India, it's his duty to evacuate his countrymen trapped in a foreign war zone," nurse Marina M Jose told the Dubai-based Khaleej Times.

The nurses are holed up in a 600-bed hospital in Tikrit, and want out. The Indian embassy has asked them to "stay put".

The nurses, all from Kerala, sent an SOS to the Kerala government on June 13 to get them out of the "foreign war zone." Chief minister Oomen Chandy faxed the SOS to the Centre. ISIL fighters have overrun Tikrit, and the 600-bed Tikrit Teaching Hospital is under siege. The nurses are holed up in the uppermost floor of the hospital. "The hospital is in the crosshairs of the gun-toting terrorists and no one can get in or out of the building...," said the KT report.

The ministry of external affairs said that the nurses are "safe, and sound." Reacting to newspaper reports, the MEA spokesman said, "We are in touch with aid agencies like Red Crescent and IRCS. They have told us it would be suicidal to transport them by road to Baghdad. The red cross has recharged their SIM cards so that they remain in touch with their families."

The Kerala government said had the Centre acted on the "state government's request" fast the nurses could have been evacuated well in time. It said it had faxed the nurses' SOS to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on June 14 to which foreign secretary Sujatha Singh replied the next day.

Then Bhutan happened. Now, the families of the nurses have left it to the gods. "We just pray for her safe return," Marina's father PA Jose said.

For full coverage of the crisis in Iraq and the Indians stranded there, read here.

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