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Tuesday, Oct 26, 2021
Outlook.com

Sailing Up The Tigris

For India’s new envoy to Iraq, a quiet renewal

Sailing Up The Tigris
AP
Sailing Up The Tigris
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

When Suresh Reddy, an Indian Foreign Service officer of the 1991 batch, flew out of New Delhi as India’s ambassador to Iraq a fortnight ago, he was symbolically burying dark memories from nearly seven years ago. In 2004, an Iraqi dissident group had abducted three Indian truck drivers (along with three Kenyans and an Egyptian) and threatened to kill them unless their company paid ransom. For 44 long days, an Indian team led by Talmiz Ahmad, currently ambassador to Saudi Arabia, engaged in protracted negotiations with the abductors, even as Indians watched every turn and twist in the tense kidnapping drama unfold on their TV. The drivers were ultimately released, but with insurgency at its height and the security situation precarious, New Delhi also decided to pull out its then ambassador B.B. Tyagi from Baghdad a few months later.

Reddy’s arrival in Baghdad marks the end of a seven-year hiatus in which India had downgraded its presence in Iraq, appointing just a charges d’affaires for holding operations. During this period, Iraq went through momentous changes—authoritarian rule was ended, two parliamentary elections were held, and the legacy of Saddam Hussein given a quiet burial. Buried with the Saddam legacy, however, is also the story of India’s eminence in Iraq, which will now be Reddy’s task to exhume and bring to life.

Not surprisingly, Reddy’s departure to Baghdad has rekindled memories among Indian officials of the years during which Saddam and his predecessors were at the helm. In 1981, for instance, when India was facing an oil crisis, then prime minister Indira Gandhi dispatched Pranab Mukherjee to seek assistance from Iraq, which was then India’s largest oil supplier. Recalls an Indian diplomat, “It took less than five minutes to sort out the issue....

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