FOR a change, the Indian reaction was quick in coming. Within hours of the US and UK bombing Iraq, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee in the Lok Sabha and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh in the Rajya Sabha strongly deplored the airstrikes, called for an immediate halt to military action and resumption of diplomatic efforts. They "regretted" that this "unilateral step has been undertaken at the very time the UN Security Council was in session", raising serious questions about the functioning of its collective and consultative procedures.
A day later, former PM and chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on external affairs, I.K. Gujral, came out even more strongly. Speaking to Outlook, he termed the strikes "reprehensible", and demanded that the government contact NAM and powers like China, France and Russia "to work out and mobilise a united world response against this act which reveals an arrogance of power". Raising the issue again in the Lok Sabha, he said that "despite the fact that the UN secretary-general has expressed his anguish and the Security Council is meeting and discussing this issue, despite the fact that the major powers have expressed distress, the action continues. This shows they care nothing about world opinion and the UN. For any country to assume they can bypass the UN is a matter of great concern to us."
Behind its arrogance is America's frustration of not being able to tame Saddam. Whether or not the strike achieved any military objectives is early to say; it clearly was bad public relations. Clinton's own problems make the affair stranger.
As for Indians in Iraq, they were quickly put on to a bus to Jordan. The Indian mission continued to work. Prakash Shah, a former foreign service officer who's now Kofi Annan's special envoy to Iraq, kept them informed of developments in Iraq.