1,300 Chinese workers evacuated to Baghdad from Samarra construction site

1,300 employees of state energy firm evacuated by bus and armoured carrier from Samarra

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 12:52pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 June, 2014, 5:13am

More than 600 Chinese workers have arrived in Baghdad after being trapped at a power plant project nearly 100km to the north, and another 600 were due to arrive in the capital last night, one of the evacuated employees has said.

The safety of the workers became a concern this week as they tried to flee fighting between government troops and Islamist militants who have grabbed territory around Samarra in their drive south.

Most of the workers would remain in Baghdad for two to three days, as their supervisors decide whether they should fly home, a wife of an engineer at the camp told the South China Morning Post.

The evacuated worker was among the first group that arrived by bus in the capital on Thursday night.

"On the road I saw many bullet casings," he told the Post.

The Chinese embassy had arranged for a convoy of 20 armoured vehicles accompanied by Iraqi government troops to evacuate the second batch of workers, he said.

He would not fly back to China but travel to Dubai instead and said he hoped to return to Iraq for a construction project in the south.

An embassy spokesman said all workers were safe but declined to comment on the evacuation.

Some workers were scheduled to be evacuated by helicopter last Sunday, but the aircraft never arrived. On Tuesday, workers travelling by bus to Baghdad were stopped by troops and forced to turn back.

State-owned China Machinery Engineering Corporation is building a 630 megawatt power plant in Samarra. Construction on the US$1.2 billion project began in 2011.

Security in Iraq has deteriorated as the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant grabs cities and towns across five provinces.

The group is led by 43-year-old Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and seeks to create an Islamic state in eastern Syria and northern Iraq based on Koranic law.

It has amassed a sizeable war chest in part by holding kidnap victims for ransom.

On June 12, an employee of China National Petroleum Corporation was kidnapped from the Halfaya oilfield project. The worker has been released.