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Evacuation to Baghdad - journey of life and death

Updated: 2014-06-29 20:50
( Xinhua)

BAGHDAD - It was above 40 degrees Celsius in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra, but the scorching desert temperature could not dampen the expectations of over 600 Chinese workers for an incoming bus convoy that would evacuate them to safety.

"There were a total of 12 buses, escorted by about eight armored vehicles of the Iraqi security forces. It was spectacular, " a Chinese worker surnamed Ji said, recalling an imminent threat of approaching Iraqi rebels.

These buses brought a hope of life for the employees with the China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC), who were working at a construction site of a local power plant in Samarra, capital of the Salahudin province.

Tensions in Iraq mounted due to the advance of Sunni militants, a rebel force spearheaded by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Samarra is close to the on-going clashes between the militants and the government troops.

"We've been waiting for this day for nearly half a month. The past two weeks seemed a long time for us. We felt so terrified and scared. Everyone was on the edge of a nervous breakdown," another worker Lu Jianfeng wrote in his diary.

Ji's residence in Samarra has been hit by shells for several times since May 1. He had to keep alert all the time and slept only a couple of hours every day. Once he heard any noise, he would rush out like a frightened bird.

Ji and Lu as well as their colleagues were evacuated to the relatively safe capital of Baghdad on Thursday.

The 120-km journey normally needs only an over one-hour drive despite repeated security checks on the road. But this time the evacuation took nearly six hours.

"Maybe it (the prolonged journey) was for the concern over our safety, maybe it was because there were too many people," Lu said.

For most of the Chinese workers who had not gone through wars, the way to Baghdad was a journey of life and death.

"We were concerned and worried on the road, fearing any accident would happen during the journey," Lu wrote.

Just two days ago, the Chinese company tried to bring its employees in five dispatches back to Baghdad. But the first bus they took was stopped in a place near their destination in Baghdad. As the Iraqi government troops refused to let the bus go through, it had to return to Samarra.

Lu, in his diary, described what he saw as "a battlefield." "We saw cars blasted by bombs, roads scattered with shell cases and craters, as well as destroyed check points, houses and bridges."

Luckily, the Chinese workers had their "bodyguards" -- they were escorted by a company of soldiers sent by the Iraqi government.

"We counted our safety on these heroes. They were very friendly and outgoing. They even invited us to take photos with them," Lu wrote.

"Wherever the convoy passed, there were always local people waving to us, and soldiers and policemen saluting us. Although they might not know about us, they knew we were Chinese. This is the respect China deserves and the reputation it enjoys internationally," he added.

The Iraqi government and military provided great support and assistance in the process of the evacuation, which is also attributed to the great efforts of the Chinese government, Liu wrote.

The Chinese embassy in Iraq has maintained close contact with the Iraqi side to ensure the safe and orderly evacuation of the Chinese workers.

"We couldn't believe the news of evacuation at first. It finally became true after several plans were abandoned. It was a prudent decision made by our company and the embassy," Lu said. "This is the Chinese government's concern for us and also the symbol of a nation's strength."

"We felt warm-hearted that our company had even prepared food for our journey and stay in Baghdad fearing that we could not adapt ourselves to local food," he wrote.

A total of more than 1,200 CMEC employees, divided in three batches, have so far been safely evacuated to Baghdad.

"We managed to evacuate. We can finally report safety to our families and this is what the embassy and the country want to know," Lu wrote.

Lying on the bed of a five-star hotel in Baghdad booked by his company, Ji was finally able to have a full night's rest. He and his colleagues were scheduled to fly home after spending two nights in the capital.

"I will take a flight via Doha. If everything goes smoothly, I will arrive home on Sunday afternoon," said the exhausted but very excited Chinese worker.

More than 10,000 Chinese people worked in Iraq, most of whom were employees with Chinese firms operating in the south of the country, northern Kurdish areas and in Baghdad, which are considered safe for the moment.