The government has done well to chalk out a phased evacuation plan for the Indians trapped in war-torn Iraq. Under this, 94 people have already returned to India, while 500 more are expected to arrive by the weekend. This follows concerted efforts by the external affairs ministry and Indian diplomatic missions in the Gulf to persuade Indians in Iraq to return to their home country or safer places. It is true that Baghdad still controls vast areas, particularly those where the Shiites and Kurds are in majority, but it is no longer safe for Indians to stay in Iraq. A phased evacuation is surely better than a massive evacuation like the one after the 1990 annexation of Kuwait.
The exact number of Indians in Iraq and Syria are not known. One estimate puts the figure at 10,000. The immediate task of the government is to identify them and make arrangements for their return. No Indian should be allowed to stay there for lack of travel documents or air ticket. Those going to Iraq also need to be dissuaded from doing so as it is futile to expect the situation to improve in the near future. Though the Iraqi Army has, of late, been able to stop the momentum of the invading Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the Sunni fighters are in for a long haul.
The ISIS not only control several towns in Iraq and Syria but also have access to weapons and money to the tune of millions of dollars looted from banks. Besides, they now control oil refineries and can tax the people. That they have long-term plans is proved by the setting up of the Islamic Caliphate and asking Muslims the world over to pledge allegiance to their chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. India cannot afford to ignore the goings-on in the region and has to calibrate its policy to meet the new challenges. It also has to mobilise the world community against Islamic fundamentalism threatening India’s security in the Middle East and the Af-Pak region, where the Taliban have been in the ascendant.