More than 1,200 Chinese workers have been relocated from conflict-torn northern Iraq to Baghdad, state media said on Sunday, as Iraqi troops fight back against a militant onslaught.
The employees of the state-run China Machinery Engineering Corp (CMEC) were successfully evacuated late last week and are due to return to Beijing, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
China is the largest foreign investor in Iraq’s oil industry and has more than 10,000 workers in the country, officials say, although most are in the south and far from the current fighting.
“We managed to evacuate. We can finally report safety to our families,” Xinhua quoted a CMEC worker surnamed Lu as saying.
The report added that eight Iraqi armoured vehicles escorted the workers from the city of Samarra, where they had been working at a construction site of a local power plant.
A worker surnamed Ji was quoted as saying that his Samarra home had been “hit by shells for several times since May 1” as Iraqi forces continued to battle militants led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The group has spearheaded a lightning offensive that captured swathes of territory north and west of Baghdad this month.
Iraq received the first batch of Sukhoi warplanes from Russia as it pressed a counter-attack on Sunday against the Sunni militant onslaught that threatens to tear the country apart.
Major Chinese oil firms have prepared evacuation plans in case the assault threatens their operations, state media has reported, highlighting the risks to energy supplies for the Asian giant.
Resources are a key interest for China, the world’s second-largest economy. Iraq is its fifth largest source of crude oil imports.