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Targeted air strikes against ISIS militants in Iraq are of no immediate consequence to Indians living there, but the situation could change if the mandate of the airstrikes authorised by US President Barack Obama expands,government sources say.
Around 6,000 Indians live in the Erbil area bordering Mosul — currently under ISIS control — and around 12,000 in Kurdistan.
Erbil is located 88 kilometers east of Mosul where 41 Indian construction workers were taken hostage in mid-June. With a population of over 1.5 million, Erbil is the largest city of the Kurdistan region.
“As of now Erbil and adjoining areas are faced with more of a humanitarian crisis rather than a security crisis. In Erbil, life is normal,” said a source.
Ethnic communities fleeing ISIS-dominated areas are all heading towards Erbil. Officials explained that “the possibility of further strikes could be outside Kurdistan”. They said America’s immediate concern centered on the safety of US officials and military advisers working with the Iraqi army in Erbil.
There are dozens of American consular staff and military advisers working with the Iraqi military in Erbil.
Obama said on Thursday he’d directed the military to launch targeted strikes against Islamist militants “should they move towards the city”. The United States has 245 military personnel in Iraq, 90 of them advisers. Kurdish officials have being seeking the help of US and NATO forces to help them fight the ISIS.
India has almost completed the process of evacuating nationals who wanted to return from Iraq.
There were 22,000 Indian nationals in Iraq at the beginning of the conflict. As of August 2, over 4,900 Indian nationals had been provided assistance for travelling back to India, including air tickets to over 3,900 nationals.
Officials pointed to the statement made by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on August 6. “…It would remain the earnest endeavour of our Government to assist every Indian citizen currently in Iraq and ensure their safe return,” Swaraj had told Parliament.