VK Singh to visit Iraq as India escalates search for 39 missing nationals, Iraqi officials assure cooperation
India has accelerated the search for 39 of its nationals reportedly held captive in Iraq’s Mosul, the city Iraqi forces reclaimed today after a months-long campaign against the ISIS group. Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh will travel to Erbil in Iraq on Monday. The development comes on the back of assurance of all cooperation of Iraqi authorities in locating the missing Indians.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today assured Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh that her ministry was making all-out efforts to trace 39 Indians, mostly from Punjab, who had been held hostage in the Iraqi city of Mosul since 2014.
Reacting to reports that the families of the hostages were trying to locate their kin after the liberation of Mosul from Islamic State forces by Iraq, Amarinder called up Swaraj earlier today to seek her intervention.
The chief minister told her that the families of the hostages were keenly awaiting the return of their kin following Islamic State' defeat and needed the central government's support in bringing them back.
She said minister of state for external affairs, General (retd) VK Singh, had been sent to Iraq to coordinate with its government and facilitate the return of the Indians stuck there, a spokesperson for the chief minister's office (CMO) said.
The Union minister said she had also directed the Indian embassy to extend all help to the stranded people from the country.
Air India officials at the airports had also been instructed to facilitate their return, said Swaraj, adding that her ministry had activated all available sources to trace the missing Indians.
Amarinder said the state government would take all steps to enable them to get back to their homes once they return to India.
In a statement, the MEA on Monday termed the liberation of Mosul as an important milestone in the global war on terror and welcomed it.
Meanwhile, Iraqi forces are involved in eliminating the last pockets of Islamic State group resistance in Mosul after the premier visited the devastated city to congratulate troops on securing victory.
With the jihadists surrounded in a sliver of territory in Mosul's Old City, attention was turning to the huge task of rebuilding the city and of helping civilians, with aid groups warning that Iraq's humanitarian crisis was far from over.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Mosul yesterday and hailed Iraq's "heroic fighting forces" after months of difficult battles that have left much of the city in ruins.
Backed by the US-led coalition battling IS, Iraqi forces launched their campaign in October to retake Mosul, which was seized by the jihadists during the mid-2014 offensive that saw them take control of large parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
Army, police and special forces, backed by waves of US-led air strikes, seized the eastern side of the city in January and launched the battle for its western part the next month.
The fight grew tougher when security forces entered the densely populated Old City on the western bank of the Tigris River, which divides the city, and intense street-to-street fighting followed.