* Nurses taken against their will, ministry spokesman says
* Government criticised for not evacuating them earlier
* About 10,000 Indians work in Iraq, where wages are higher
(Adds further quotes, background)
By Sruthi Gottipati
NEW DELHI, July 3 (Reuters) - Nearly 50 Indian nurses from
the southern state of Kerala have been taken against their will
from a hospital in the militant-controlled city of Tikrit in
Iraq, India's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
At a briefing with reporters, Foreign Ministry spokesman
Syed Akbaruddin declined to say who had ordered the nurses to
leave the hospital or where they were taken.
"They are not going of their own free will," he said, when
asked whether the nurses had been abducted by a militia. "This
is a situation where lives are at stake."
A senior aide to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who
spoke to the nurses on Thursday, told Reuters that militants had
forced the nurses to vacate the hospital and board two buses.
Most of the nurses are from the south Indian state of Kerala.
Tikrit, the birthplace of former President Saddam Hussein,
has been the site of fierce fighting this week as Iraqi troops
battle to regain control of the city from the al Qaeda splinter
group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Islamic State insurgents and other Sunni Muslim militant
groups seized towns and cities across Syria and Iraq in a
lightning advance last month.
Indian nurses can earn higher wages in the Middle East than
at home. Some of the nurses in Iraq resisted returning to India
because they had taken out large loans to get overseas work.
Some critics say the Indian government should have sought to
evacuate the group of 46 nurses in Tikrit earlier, despite the
difficult security situation.
"The Iraqi army is not in control of Tikrit," Akbaruddin
said, adding that the nurses were still in phone contact with
Indian officials. "We have been in touch with humanitarian
organizations and they had, in this instance, indicated their
inability to reach the nurses given the difficulties in road
Two weeks ago, 40 Indian construction workers were kidnapped
in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, and all but one of them are
still in captivity. The workers have been press ganged into
building defensive fortifications for the insurgents, Indian
newspaper The Hindu reported, citing a senior Kurdish security
About 10,000 Indians work in Iraq, mostly in areas
unaffected by the fighting, but scores of them have returned to
India since ISIL began its offensive.
(Additional reporting by D. Jose in Thiruvananthapuram, Writing
by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Tom