Millennium Post

Indian nurses in Iraq freed, on their way home

On a day of ‘dramatic developments’, all 46 Indian women nurses were suddenly set free by Sunni militants ISIS in strife-torn Iraq and were being brought back home in a special Air India plane which left on Friday evening for Erbil, a non-conflict zone. ‘The Indian nurses who moved out against their will yesterday (on Thursday) are free. They are in touch with the Indian Embassy officials at Erbil,’ the spokesperson of the external affairs ministry told reporters in New Delhi. Erbil in north Iraq is the capital of Kurdistan region of the Arab Gulf country.

The nurses are expected to reach Kochi in southern Indian state Kerala on Saturday. The ordeal of the nurses, who were working at a hospital in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, began when a swift ISIS (Islamic State for Iraq and Syria) offensive was launched on 9 June. The nurses were moved out on Thursday against their will and were held in the militant-held city of Mosul, 250 km from Tikrit. The Erbil International airport is about 80 km from Mosul.

‘The nurses are safe, unharmed,’ the spokesperson said, adding the special Air India flight has taken off from Delhi. Asked if National Security Advisor Ajit Doval played any role in the negotiations to get the nurses released, he said at the diplomatic level, negotiations involved external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj herself but, at the ground level, the details cannot be shared.

‘Diplomacy works through the front doors. We are using other doors and how those doors were used and knocked on and how they were opened up is a story for another day. The story for today is that one of those doors opened and we were able to extricate our nationals,’ the spokesperson said. He further noted that the Indian officials were ‘always in touch’ with what was going on with the nurses and said ‘Things don’t happen just like that. There is a lot of effort, patience and a lot of quiet work that has gone into this.’

A joint-secretary level IFS officer and an IAS woman officer from Kerala are among the Indian officials travelling on the chartered flight. At a separate press conference in Delhi, Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy said the nurses have reached the border near the international airport at Erbil for their evacuation to India.

‘The nurses will reach Kochi on Saturday morning,’ Chandy said.
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