Zee Media Bureau
New Delhi: Assuring that Indian government will leave no stone unturned to bring back the Indians trapped in Iraq, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Friday confirmed that all 46 nurses who were yesterday held in Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) controlled areas against their will have been freed and will reach Kochi tomorrow morning by a special Air India flight from Erbil in northern Iraq.
The ordeal of the nurses, who were working at a hospital in Saddam Hussein`s hometown of Tikrit, began when an ISIS offensive was launched on June 9.
The nurses were moved out yesterday 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.
Addressing a press conference here, MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, “All 46 Indian nurses in Iraq are free and in touch with our embassy officials. An Air India plane has taken off from Delhi today to evacuate Indian nurses from Iraq.”
"The nurses are safe, unharmed," the spokesperson said, adding the special Air India flight Boeing 777 has taken off from Delhi.
He further said, "The nurses will reach Erbil in the night. 70 others from Kirkuk will also be brought back along with the 46 nurses."
“It has been day of dramatic developments. I can confirm to you that those nurses who were moved to Mosul yesterday (Thursday) are free,” he added.
However, he said that there are several others who are stranded yet in Iraq.
"We have succeeded in extracting 46 of our nationals but there are several other stranded," Akbaruddin said.
Akbaruddin for the first time today said that this procedure of bring back the stranded Indian nationals from the critical areas of Iraq was possible due to the efforts put in within and outside Iraq.
“Our primary work is to bring our stranded Indians back home
rest assured that India has friends within Iraq and outside. Got substantial support," the MEA spokesperson said.
Further giving some details about the Air India plane which will bring the nurses tomorrow, Akbaruddin said, "An Air India plane will land late tonight in Erbil. A joint secretary level officer will accompany the nurses in plane. It will land in Kochi tomorrow and proceed to Delhi if needed."
Answering to a question asked by a journalist present in the conference, that whether the government use the same measures to free other stranded Indian nationals in Iraq, and why there was a delay in bringing back the Indians from Iraq, Akbaruddin said, “It`s time now for us to turn on each other and not against each other. Please have faith that the government is doing all it can to bring back Indians from Iraq.”
He further said, “Resources being pushed into extricating other Indian nationals in conflict zone in Iraq. We won`t be satisfied till we reach culmination of our efforts and bring all nationals back.”
But when asked that who were these `friends` who helped India to get back its nationals, without disclosing any information, the MEA spokesperson said, “Anything we say may possibly impact other elements so I won`t say who we worked with and how we worked.”
Asked about how these nurses were released, the spokesperson said, “The External Affairs minister consulted with her foreign counterparts. Lot of ground work was done to get the nurses released. Things do not happen just like that, there is a lot of patience and hard work done quietly due to which this development happened.”
Giving credit to Sushma Swaraj for efforts to secure the release of the nurses, the spokesperson said: "EAM has been at this 24 hours. She has been doing at least 3-4 times more than what has been reported (in the media)," IANS reported.
Akbaruddin revealed that Swaraj led the `diplomatic effort` by interacting with a host of her counterparts, adding that, "The engagements and interactions of the external affairs minister are far beyond what have been written."
Giving an example, Akbaruddin said, "She was flying out to Bhopal on Thursday and as soon as she heard of news of the nurses (being moved from Tikrit to Mosul), she came back and immediately held a meeting."
Earlier in the day, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy announced that all 46 Indian nurses seized by insurgents in Iraq were freed today and will fly to Kerala on tomorrow morning.
The chief minister said in a telephonic interview from New Delhi that he will be in Kochi to receive the nurses tomorrow when they return in a special Air India flight.
He had earlier met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and expressed confidence that the nurses would return to Kerala soon.
“A high-level crisis management group under the leadership of Sushma Swaraj has been formed. It will be doing everything to see that the nurses are brought back safely,” he said.
The 46 nurses were put on a bus from Tikrit yesterday afternoon by armed militants and driven to Mosul.
Their shifting caused panic, with some reports suggesting that the nurses would be forced by the insurgents to work in hospitals controlled by them in Mosul, their stronghold.
But the situation changed dramatically today morning when the militants, after serving breakfast, allowed them to speak over the telephone to their families in Kerala.
It was the first definitive indication that the nurses were set to taste freedom.
With agency inputs