India is pulling out all the stops with humanitarian agencies, national governments and even former members of Saddam Hussein's army to secure the release of 40 of its nationals abducted from near the Iraqi town of Mosul.
New Delhi is trying every conceivable method of getting through to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), a brutal militia that has kidnapped the Indian workers, who are mostly from Punjab. Diplomats are in touch with the U.S. and Iraqi governments, and also with Turkey, whose nationals have also been abducted.
"The Turkish government is already speaking to their contacts in Iraq and are confident that they will have a breakthrough," said a senior government official dealing with the crisis.
In addition, some officials are also trying an unconventional route: Reaching out to former soldiers who served under Saddam Hussein, the dictator toppled by U.S. forces in 2003.
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"We believe that there are a number of soldiers and officers from Saddam's army in the ISIS. They are favourably disposed towards us and will help us establish some contact to resolve the crisis," said another senior government official.
The 40 Indians were working for Baghdad-based construction company Tariq Noor al-Huda. The ministry of external affairs said on Wednesday that there was no confirmation about their location or ransom demands.
"We don't know where they are and trying to get as much information possible from anyone willing to give us information from the ground," the MEA spokesperson said. Mosul is located about 400 kms northwest of capital Baghdad, now under attack from the ISIS.
The primary confirmation about the kidnapping came from Red Crescent, which was requested by India three days ago to get in touch with the construction workers as well as 46 Indian nurses stranded in Tikrit, another Iraqi city. The Red Crescent met the Indian nurses and provided them with mobile cards.
There are 10,000 Indians working in Iraq, of whom around 100 live in areas now overrun by ISIS. The Indian mission in Baghdad is in contact with many of them, including the nurses in Tikrit. "We are feeling better off compared to the situation two days ago", Seena, one of the nurses, told HT. They have been advised against venturing out by road in case they are kidnapped or killed.
India is sending its former ambassador to Iraq, Suresh Reddy, back to Baghdad as a reinforcement.
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ISIS launched an offensive on June 9, capturing Mosul, a city of two million people, and is closing in on Baghdad, where the Shiite-led government is bracing itself for a fierce conflict.
Full coverage: Iraq on the brink