What happened to 39 Indian workers kidnapped from Mosul by the Islamic State in 2014?
According to Fakhri H Al-Issa, Iraq's ambassador to India, the ongoing battle for Mosul, parts of which are still under Daesh's hold, may throw up more details on the Indians' fate.
"We have no information that they are dead," said Al-Issa, adding that there was a possibility that they may have be taken as slaves. ISIS had also taken hundreds of Iraqis as slaves, and they were later found being used for opening tunnels.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, too, on a number of occasions, had refused to accept reports that the kidnapped workers are dead, and said she has been told by more than one source that they were alive.
In this exclusive interview to Catch, Al-Issa pointed out that 50% of Mosul has already been cleared of Daesh, which he labelled a 'Salafist-Jihadist-Takfiri' outfit. The operation may, however, take another 45 days to finish.
He said Daesh operatives had no option but to either surrender or get killed, and that they could not run away, for the area had been sealed by popular mobilisation forces.
Seeking India's support
The Iraqi envoy sought India's support, especially in equipping the Iraqi forces in their fight against terror, which he said would define the future of the Middle East.
"We need all kinds of assistance - humanitarian assistance for the 3.5 million displaced people, assistance to equip the popular mobilisation forces," the envoy said, while explaining how Iraq does not want India to get directly involved.
"We have enough people to fight. We don't need people," he said, pointing to an offer by a group of Indians who sought permission to fight against the Daesh last year.
India and Iraq are already co-operating on the security and economic fronts, with agreements on sharing of information, and Iraq being India's second largest supplier of oil. Al-Issa said Iraq is now seeking a more dynamic involvement of the Indian government and businesses in the reconstruction efforts. He pointed to over 750 public sector companies which need restructuring, and thus, offer an opportunity to Indian players.
Iraq's treasury has been badly hit by the slump in global oil prices. "The funds are not there for investment," the ambassador said, adding that taking care of more than 3.5 million displaced Iraqis and paying salaries barely leaves the country with just 10% of its budget.
Current state of relations
After Minister of State in the MEA MJ Akbar's visit to Baghdad and Karbala, Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari had offered to visit India in December to continue with the high-level exchange and ramp up the ties between the two countries. The visit has now been postponed to mid-February, pending confirmation by the Indian government.
Petroleum Minister Jabbar Ali Al-Luaibi, who was expected to visit India for the Petrotech 2016 conference and exhibition, too, has pulled out. His deputy will now lead the Iraqi delegation. Al-Luaibi, in his capacity as the oil minister, also presides over the India-Iraq joint commission from the Iraqi side, a body which last met in 2013 in Baghdad.
Interestingly, some Iraqi soldiers with serious injuries have been coming to India for treatment. Ambassador Al-Issa pointed out how around 40 such soldiers were getting treated at the Artemis Hospital in Gurgaon, with which the Iraqi defence ministry had signed an agreement.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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