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These Nights In Tikrit

Ten years ago, three Indian drivers, along with three Kenyans and one Egyptian, had been kidnapped in Fallujah, an event that had caused great consternation in India. The robust media attention had put tremendous pressure on the Congress government that had just come into power. Now, we face a similar situation in which 40 Indian workers are abducted near Mosul, and 20 Indian nurses find themselves stranded in Tikrit, north of Baghdad, a town captured by a Sunni jehadi group that calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).In 2004, the government had sent a team of diplomats to Baghdad to negotiate the release of the Indians and other hostages. The interaction was facilitated by the fact that the kidnappers provided an authorised interlocutor who was able to ensure continued conversation over a one-month period. This cul­minated in the payment of an agreed ransom by the Kuwaiti company that employed the drivers, followed by a safe handover of the hostages.The situation in Iraq now is much more complex, since the ISIS, eng­aged in a sectarian conflict, are at war with an Iraqi government they do not recognise. Though unlikely to yield a winner, this will almost certa­i­nly eng­ulf the country in violence. Given our abiding interest in the safety of our nationals, the government has no choice but to immediately send a team to Baghdad. Its mandate should be to set up channels of communications with the insurgents so that the abducted workers, stranded nurses and other Indians are brought to safety and sent back to India.The challenges before this team will be more serious than was the case earlier, since the government of PM Nouri Al Maliki may not be particularly cooperative or even effective, while the ISIS has given no indication of negotiating on any issue. The only basis for optimism is that the ISIS is not a monolithic entity: besides hardcore jehadis, it also consists of Baathist elements led by Saddam Hussain???s interior minister, Izzat Ibrahim,



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