Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj yesterday confirmed the tragic news that 39 Indian workers, who were missing in Mosul, Iraq since June 2014 before the liberation by joint forces of the US and Iraqi Army, had been killed. The 39 had earlier been kidnapped by ISIS/Islamic State and a lengthy operation had been in place for their release and recovery.
While the Opposition and families of the dead raised questions as to the Government’s modus operandi in the matter, it was a sad moment for the Minister herself to confirm the news brought to her through diplomatic channels and Iraqi NGO, ‘Martyrs Foundation‘, which matched the DNA with 38 out of 39 recovered bodies from the northern Iraqi village of Badush to that of family members.
Previously the Minister refused to use the term ‘believed to be dead’, in the absence of any ‘firm evidence’, unlike other governments, in addition to on grounds of humanity and keeping the sentiments of the family of the deceased in mind.
Earlier in the day it became quite difficult for the Minister to convey news to Parliament and the nation as the main Opposition continued to create a ruckus inside Parliament while she was speaking, accusing her of delaying the announcement.
Answering a question on why families were not informed the Minister stated that in a democratic Parliamentary set up, it is her responsibility to inform Parliament and the nation first, however the families it is believed had also received the news of their family members’ tragic deaths.
It is evident that the Government undertook a great deal of ground work to search for the missing 39 in the last four years by sending diplomats and even Ministers to Mosul on multiple occasions. During one such visit, M J Akbar, Deputy of Sushma Swaraj, recalled how the Premier of one partner nation had shown his concern in the search operation knowing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s worry.
Identifying the bodies itself was a herculean task as the Iraq based ‘Martyrs Foundation’, which helped the Indian government in this massive search operation, asked for DNA of the family members. It subsequently became more difficult for the Indian government when on a tip-off, Indian delegates visited a Mosul jail where the 39 missing Indians were supposed to have been kept, only to discover the jail had already been bombed and was in ruins.
Later, following another local tip-off, the Iraqi Government and ‘Martyrs Foundation’ helped India exhume the mound at Badush and recover the 39 bodies through DNA and signs such as long hair and Kada (evident with Sikhs).
Later in the press conference Sushma Swaraj told reporters that 27 out of 39 missing are from the Northern Indian state of Punjab, 6 from Bihar, 4 from West Bengal and 2 from Madhya Pradesh.
The Minister also stated that her deputy Gen V K Singh will fly to Baghdad and return with the bodies before they are handed over to the family members.
Answering a question about ISIS she said that to fight such a lethal terror group responsible for the killing of millions of civilians, including these 39 Indians, a joint and massive effort is needed and PM Narendra Modi does not defer to her on this.