Indian citizens told to avoid travel to Iraq; Navy on standby for evacuation if needed.
New Delhi: Hours after Iran attacked bases in Iraq where American troops are stationed, India on Wednesday asked all its nationals “to avoid all non-essential travel to Iraq until further notification”, even as Iranian ambassador to India Ali Chegeni said Iran would “welcome any initiative” by India aimed at de-escalating tensions between his country and the United States.
Aviation regulator DGCA on Wednesday asked Indian carriers to remain vigilant and take all precautions in the airspace over Iran, Iraq, Gulf of Oman and the waters of the Persian Gulf. Soon after this, Air India said it was temporarily rerouting its flights and that of its subsidiary Air India Express which use Iranian airspace, a move that may lead to an increase in flying time from 20 to 40 minutes.
In another development, defence sources said the Indian Navy was ready for any emergency pullout of Indians from Iran. The Indian Navy already has one warship in the Gulf of Oman to come to the aid of any Indian merchant ship in the area.
“There could be two ways in which Indians can be evacuated. The first is that Indians will be asked to reach an Iranian port and from there, they will be taken to some nearby Gulf country. From that country, Indians can be flown to India or they can go to any other place of their choosing. However, if the Gulf countries refuse to be part of the plan, then the option will be to bring them directly to India,” a source adde. The voyage by ship from Iran to India can take one and a half to two days.
Ties between the US and Iran plummeted to dangerous levels after the US assassinated Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, in Baghdad last week, reportedly in a missile strike by an American drone. The
Americans had accused Maj.Gen. Soleimani of plotting terror attacks against them worldwide. A furious Iran had on Sunday vowed to “take appropriate retaliatory action” against the United States at a “suitable time and place”.
“India usually plays very good role in (maintaining) peace. At the same time India belongs to this region. We welcome all initiatives from all countries, especially India as a good friend for us, to not allow escalation (of tensions),” Iranian ambassador to India Ali Chegeni was quoted by news agencies as saying on Wednesday. “We are not for war, we are looking for peace and prosperity for everybody in this region. We welcome any Indian initiative or any project that can help peace and prosperity in this world,” he added.
In its advisory, New Delhi said: “In view 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. Our embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Erbil will continue to function normally to provide all services to Indians residing in Iraq.”
The DGCA on Wednesday asked all Indian carriers to be vigilant and take all precautions in the airspace over Iran, Iraq, Gulf of Oman and waters of Persian Gulf, hours after a Ukrainian aircraft with 176 people crashed near Tehran. A meeting was called and the airlines were “sensitised”, a senior DGCA official said.