Ibrahim Al-Eshaiker Al-Jaafari said that there was also no evidence to show that the missing had ever been in Badush jail near Mosul, as Sushma Swaraj has claimed.
New Delhi: Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim Al-Eshaiker Al-Jaafari said on Monday (July 24) that there was “no absolute proof” that the 39 missing Indians were ever in Badush jail, adding that his government was still searching for them as there was no evidence of their death either.
Al-Jaafari’s comment came on the first day of his four-day visit to India amid increasing criticism that the Indian government had given false hope to the families of the 39 Indians by saying that they were still alive.
When ISIS captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in 2014, 40 Indians were known to be working in a factory there. While one managed to escape, the fate of the other 39 others has remained a mystery. The Indian government has so far maintained that there was no direct proof that they had been killed, as alleged by the sole survivor.
When Iraqi forces ‘liberated’ Mosul this month, New Delhi rushed minister of state for external affairs V.K. Singh to Irbil and Baghdad. After he returned, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj held a meeting with the families and told them that the missing Indians were probably lodged in a jail in Badush, a village near Mosul.
However, it was reported last week that the prison in Badush has been completely abandoned and was demolished several months months ago.
Al-Jaafari, who is on his maiden visit to India as foreign minister, had to face a barrage of questions related to the veracity of Swaraj’s claims about the missing Indians. He had spent the day in a series of appointments with his Indian counterpart, petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan and even called on Vice President Hamid Ansari.
At a late night briefing held at the Iraqi ambassador’s residence, Al-Jaafari said that Badush jail was currently “under the control of Iraqi government”. “Before the Iraqi government seized control of it, it was bombed and partially demolished,” he said, with the help of a translator.
He asserted that there was “no proof whatsoever that they are either dead or alive”.
Al-Jaafari, who had also served as Iraq’s prime minister between 2005 and 2006, said that there was also no evidence to show that the 39 Indians had ever been in Badush jail.
“It is correct that Daesh [ISIS] had seized the prison of Badush for a while and that the prison was demolished. The question is whether the 39 Indian missing persons are under the rubble. There is no absolute proof that they were [ever] in there. Until the rubble is removed, we can only assume that they are alive and search is going to be continued,” he said.
He said that Singh “could” have probably been told “by a source within the Iraqi government that they [the missing] were deported to Badush jail but they were not aware that it was their final destination.”
The minister also claimed that Singh’s visit took place “before the liberation” of all the areas. “It was not a misleading of information, it was rather facts on the ground which at that time was determined as true,” he said.
Al-Jaafari tried to assure the families of the missing that the Iraq government was doing all it could to search for the men and even announced a financial incentive. “I deal with them as if they are my children. Iraq government and people are continuously following up,” he said.
Describing ISIS as a “furious monster with most horrific acts,” he “beseeched” the families that it would “take time” to find an answer.
Speaking on bilateral relations, Al-Jaafari said that he would look for help to rebuild the infrastructure of the liberated cities. Both sides are also looking to strengthen intelligence exchange as well as defence cooperation, the minister indicated.
Iraq is already the second highest supplier of crude to India, but there are plans to further increase the supply with the oil ministers set to meet in November, Al-Jaafari added.