Eight Chinese workers who fled intense fighting in Iraq have finally arrived home – the first of 1,200 workers who were rescued from their month-long ordeal, including bombings just outside their work site.
The crew of China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) had been trapped in the conflict between government troops and Islamist militants in Samarra city, northern Iraq, before being evacuated by helicopter and armoured vehicles to the capital, Baghdad.
The eight arrived in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, yesterday afternoon before boarding trains to their hometowns in Anhui and Henan, the state-run China Daily reported yesterday.
”I did not expect to return home [as early as] today when I called my wife back in Iraq several days ago,” Li Jinzhi, from Henan province, told the newspaper.
After touching down in Guangzhou, Li asked reporters for help calling his wife. Overwhelmed with excitement, she could not say a word, the daily said.
The workers had been stranded at the construction site of CMEC’s US$1.2 billion power plan project in Samarra, as the battle between militants under the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Isis) and government troops raged in the troubled Salaheddin province.
It took five hours to travel to Baghdad, only 120 kilometres away from the company’s construction site, a rescued worker surnamed Ji told the Qianjiang Evening News.
”Houses, bridges and checking points on the way to Bagdad were all bombed out. Except for the troops, no one was on the street,” Ji was quoted as saying.
As early as May 1, a couple of bombs blew up on the construction site, Ji said.
”Our temporary dorm on the site was made of 7.5-centimetre thick material, and could easily be pierced by the fragments of the bomb,” the paper quoted Ji as saying.
CMEC said it halted the construction project on June 12 after another bomb exploded near the site. That same evening, an employee of another oil company, state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation, was kidnapped from an oil field in Halfaya, in the central Hama region. The employee was later released.
The jihadist group led by 43-year-old Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is seeking to create an Islamic state in eastern Syria and northern Iraq based on Koranic law.
The militants seized territories around Samarra as part of a wider offensive, in which they successfully controlled cities and towns across five provinces in northern Iraq.
As the militants closed in on the area, plans to extricate the workers by helicopter on June 22 failed. Two days later, last Tuesday, they were turned back by government troops outside Baghdad.
News of their plight had prompted Beijing to demand full cooperation from the Iraqi government on ensuring security for its citizens.
By last Friday evening, all the 1,200 workers in Samarra were finally escorted by state troops to the Iraqi capital by armoured vehicles and helicopter.
The rest of the workers are due to fly back to China via Dubai and Doha in the coming days.