June 2014 – IRAQ – The taking into custody of 40 Indians, drawn into the crossfire of a bitter power struggle in Iraq between an assertive but marginalized Sunni minority and the government led by President Nouri al-Maliki, has brought into focus the Narendra Modi government’s crisis management skills. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a jihadist group, is apparently behind the detention and relocation of the workers, who are from Punjab, into a cotton warehouse in the vicinity of Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city that is an ethnically divided demographic powder keg. Yet, there are indications that Sunni tribesmen, who may not share the ISIS’s virulent extremist ideology but are in a tactical embrace with it in order to counter the government of Mr. Nouri al-Maliki, which has Shia overtones, are holding the victims. The detentions, along with the entrapment of 46 nurses in a Tikrit hospital, are cause for deep anxiety; the crisis has dwarfed the 2004 abduction and release of three Indian truck drivers near Baghdad. Apart from India, countries such as China and Turkey, whose nationals have been detained in large numbers, are experiencing the pain. The blowback of the incident has hit the government hard, persuading External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to meet the distraught families of the victims, who have no option but to seek solace from the Central government.
The government is facing a complex crisis that has to be tackled at multiple levels. In order to get the hostages released, New Delhi is apparently using the channels of the Iraqi Red Crescent to communicate with the militants. Its immediate worry is to ensure safe passage that would allow the evacuation of the workers from their present locations to the Kurdish-dominated Erbil airport, which is much safer, geographically and otherwise, than the battle-hit route to Baghdad heading towards the south. But the government has to worry beyond the immediate; for a crisis of much larger proportions can emerge should fighting spill into the oil-rich south, where a large proportion of the 20,000 Indians in Iraq live. The danger of an escalation of regional upheavals is real if Iran, in supporting the Shia-dominated south, gets embroiled in the crisis — possibly creating a spiral of tensions with rival Saudi Arabia. Finally, New Delhi has also to be prepared for the internationalisation of the events in Iraq, as well as a sharp and painful spurt in oil prices, especially if the United States chooses to launch air strikes against opposition strongholds. For this could raise concerns in Russia and China that have been reacting vigorously to events in West Asia, especially Syria, in the aftermath of the 2011 fall of Qadhafi in Libya. –The Hindu
Four more Iraqi towns fall to insurgents: A strategic border crossing and three other towns in western Iraq fell Saturday to the control of ISIS militants, a senior Iraqi security official said. In addition to their offensives in northern Iraq, the militants have now strengthened their hand in the western province of Anbar, the country’s largest geographically, and were controlling Al-Qaim, Rawa, Ana and Huseiba, said the senior official, who’s based in Anbar. Most importantly, the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, or ISIS, controlled the strategic town of Al-Qaim on the border with Syria, where the enemy fighters enjoy a stronghold, Iraqi security officials said Saturday.
Together, the four towns are situated along a highway from Syria to Baghdad, heightening possibilities that the militants could now march from the west to lay siege to the Iraqi capital. One of the four towns, Huseiba, is just 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, outside Baghdad. Iraqi government officials didn’t have an immediate comment, other than security officials saying they were expecting troop reinforcements in Anbar. Several Sunni tribes are aiding and supporting ISIS in Anbar, the senior official said. Also, the first retinue of U.S. military advisers was expected to arrive soon in Iraq. Since clashes erupted Friday in Al-Qaim, at least 11 Iraqi soldiers have been killed and 21 more have been wounded. Also, at least 20 militants were killed after Iraqi forces shelled areas from where the extremists launched attacks, two security officials in Ramadi, Iraq, told CNN. Al-Qaim sits across from Syria’s Deir Ezzor province, where ISIS controls at least three towns, including areas near the military airport of Deir Ezzor, which was the headquarters of the military council for rebel battalions, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group in London that monitors the Syrian conflict. –CNN