The Indian embassy has advised Indians in Iraq not to travel within the country
Indians in Iraq are panicked as Iran has fired missiles at the United States Al-Assad airbase in Iraq as a retaliation for the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.
“We heard explosions. We don’t know whether it was the blast of the missile attack. We all are tensed. All are being told to remain safe inside offices and houses,” Bongu Praveen, a cleaning worker in Baghdad told The Lede over the phone. Praveen hails from Telangana.
“Only after two or three days, we will be able to know what has happened actually. I am afraid whether we will be repatriated to India or not. Connectivity is a big issue now. Once in a while only we are able to make calls,” Praveen added.
On Wednesday morning, US airbases at Al-Assad in Iraq were attacked by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) missiles, Iran’s official news agency reported, sharing a video of the attack.
Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, tweeted that Iran “took and concluded proportionate measures in self defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens and senior officials were launched.”
“We do not seek an escalation of the war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” his tweet added.
Press TV had tweeted that 80 US army personnel had been killed in the missile attack.
However, United States President Donald Trump tweeted that “All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties and damages taking place now. So far, so good!
We have the most powerful and well-equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning,” his tweet added.
Meanwhile, Naresh Kumar Rachakonda, a cleaning sector worker in Erbil from Telangana, told The Lede over phone from Iraq that in Erbil, the situation is okay.
“However, we are worried about our friends in Baghdad,” he added.
Erbil is around 370 km from Baghdad.
On Wednesday morning, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs had issued a travel advisory for Iraq.
“Because of the prevailing situation in Iraq, Indian nationals are advised to avoid all non-essential travel to Iraq until further notification. Indian nationals residing in Iraq are advised to be alert and may avoid travel within Iraq,” the advisory read.
“Our Embassy in Baghdad and Consulate in Erbil will continue to function normally to provide all services to Indians residing in Iraq,” the advisory added.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had also asked the government to ensure the safety of Indians in Iraq.
“I will again urge @NarendraModi and @DrSJaishankar to be ready with a plan of safety and security of around 10 million Indians living in Gulf countries. With the latest news of Iran's missiles hitting American base things can easily go south from now on,” the chief minister had tweeted.
According to the Indian embassy in Iraq, there has been an influx of Indian workers to Iraq after the revision of travel advisory in February 2019.
“Presently, there are more than 6000 Indian workers deployed in Karbala Refinery Project. The total number of Indians in Iraq is now estimated to be around 15,000-17,000, mostly in Kurdistan region, Basra, Najaf, and Karbala,” the embassy note adds.
Additionally, the regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has asked also all airlines in India to remain vigilant and take precautions in the airspace over Iran, Iraq, Gulf of Oman and the waters of the Persian Gulf.
Before the Gulf War in 1991, there were more than 80,000 Indian nationals in Iraq. Most of them left Iraq before the war started.
After the 2003 invasion, thousands of Indian workers were recruited by contractors to provide various services to foreign military bases in Iraq. Many of them left as the security situation in the country deteriorated.
With the lifting of the Indian advisory against travel of Indians to Iraq which was in vogue from 2004 till May 2010, the number of Indian workers had steadily increased in the more stable Kurdistan region comprising Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk governorates, with better salaries and working conditions in steel mills, oil companies, and construction projects.
When the Islamic State took over large parts of Iraq in 2014, the Indian government had evacuated thousands of Indian nationals from Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Philippines has ordered the evacuation of its citizens in Iraq, as tensions between the United States and Iran escalated on Tuesday.
“Our marching orders were mandatory repatriation,” Charge d'Affaires Jomar Sadie said in an advisory issued via Facebook Live on Wednesday.