Swaraj summons envoys amid Iraq hostage crisis

The Indian government has stepped up efforts to evacuate its nationals from violence-torn Iraq, where at least 39 Indians are being held captive.

Officials said today that three Air India planes are on standby and ready to leave for Iraq at short notice to bring back the hostages.

Later, foreign affairs minister Sushma Swaraj held a meeting with India's envoys to Gulf countries as well as the ambassadors from those countries to seek their assessment of the situation in Iraq.

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, cabinet secretary Ajit Seth, and officials of the National Crisis Management Committee were also present at the meeting.

"The Red Crescent had spoken to the people there and written to us saying that they are safe," Swaraj later told newspersons.

She again met the families of those who have been kidnapped and assured them that the government was taking all steps for the safety and evacuation of their kith and kin.

The government has decided to send two teams to Baghdad, in addition to the nine already at work in three Iraqi cities namely Basra, Najaf and Karbala.

The government also said that it was in touch with the 46 Indian nurses stranded in the militant stronghold of Tikrit and that they were unharmed.

"We have made contact with them. They are unharmed, they needed some funds and that has been provided. We are in a state of readiness for whatever is needed," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

Iraq is witnessing serious strife with Sunni militants, backed by the Al Qaeda, marching towards the capital Baghdad. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced in the fighting that broke out on 10 June.