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Indians move out of Iraq
- Delhi orders evacuation

New Delhi, March 10: India today asked its citizens, including embassy staff, to leave Iraq immediately and foreign minister Yashwant Sinha cancelled a visit abroad as signals of another Gulf war beeped louder.

Yesterday, the army chief had briefed the political leadership on war scenarios.

The government maintained a “middle” path, refusing to condemn the US despite pressure from the Opposition at an all-party meeting and at the same time not saying anything against Iraq.

Sinha, who called off a visit to Brussels, told reporters after the nearly two-hour meeting that Delhi has asked the 50-odd Indians in Iraq to take “immediate steps to leave that country”.

The foreign minister said the situation was “developing very rapidly” but India was ready to tackle any contingency that might arise in the event of a military conflict. “We have taken all precautions to ensure the safety and security of Indian nationals in that area.”

Asked whether India would extend facilities to the US if war does break out, he said America has not made such a request so far. “We will decide when the situation arises.”

About the second US resolution seeking UN mandate for possible military action, Sinha said: “Till now, all decisions have been under the aegis of the Security Council. Even now, the US, UK and Spain have moved a resolution” seeking the UN route.

Earlier, the all-party meeting on Iraq convened by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed to reach a consensus, with the government adopting a soft stand on the US and several Opposition parties demanding condemnation of Washington’s unilateral plan to attack Baghdad.

The Centre rejected a demand by Left parties and the Rashtriya Janata Dal that Parliament adopt a resolution against any unilateral US action and expressing solidarity with Iraq. The government said it does not want to be bound by a resolution in a fast-changing situation. The Congress did not insist on a resolution but wanted the government “to tell Parliament what it is planning to do”.

Vajpayee clarified his Lok Sabha statement that the government would adopt a “middle path” and pointed out that both America and Iraq were friends of India. “India will not like to involve itself if the US declares war without UN sanction,” he said.

Besides Vajpayee and Sinha, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her party colleague Manmohan Singh were among those who attended the meeting.

The meeting saw unanimity on four issues: that war should be avoided, the crisis should be resolved through peaceful means, whatever action needed should be through the Security Council and no unilateral action by the US.

CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee described the meeting as “very disappointing” as the government had not made its stand clear despite a “near-unanimous” demand for a resolution in both Houses of Parliament condemning the US action.

Chatterjee said the government did not want to “annoy” the US. “The government is saying that Iraq was not wholly blameless. This is a very dangerous theory. There has been uproar in the entire world, even in the US.... This government cannot take a stand.... It does not want to annoy its American friends,” he said.

RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh slammed the government for not agreeing to a resolution. “We should not remain neutral when possibility of atrocities being committed on Iraq is there,” he said. Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav wondered how Baghdad could be attacked when UN inspectors have given it a “clean chit”.

The Telugu Desam Party said it would support any resolution on Iraq. “We support the government in taking all steps to avoid war,” Desam leader K. Yerran Naidu said.

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