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'Indians fare better than Pakistanis in Iraq'

Source: PTI
August 01, 2004 22:31 IST
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Two youth, who returned from Iraq, are surprised that Indians have been taken hostage in the strife-torn country because they were usually 'soft' on Indians.

Harminder Singh and Amarjit Singh went to Iraq from Punjab's Madhara village in search of greener pastures but returned with harrowing tales of armed encounters between Iraqi groups and US troops, bomb blasts and attacks by newly sprung terrorist groups.

The duo transported rations for Americans from Kuwait to Iraq.

Amarjit Singh, who left for Iraq in February 2004 and returned within a few months, described how he saw drivers coming back from Iraqi assignments injured and heard stories about Pakistani drivers who went missing.

"The Pakistanis were killed when they were attacked by terrorist groups while Indian drivers were spared with a warning to leave Iraq and never to return," he told PTI.

Amarjit along with other 15 drivers hailing from Malerkotla, Ludhiana and Una areas returned from Iraq on June 17.

"When, we were selected by the local travel agents for Iraq, there was no test for driving. We were given an international driving license and later on trained by Pakistani instructors in Kuwait," he said.

"There was no insurance cover. We were paid just 80 dinars every month," he said adding that they paid Rs 100,000 each to the travel agent, who did not till them 'about the reality of the job'.

Harminder Singh said a US armoured car escorted their trucks. "But when the convoy was attacked, most often the escort fled to save their lives leaving us to face the attackers. While Pakistanis were killed on the spot, Indians were invariably let off with a warning. That's how we came to realise that at least the attackers worked according to a code."

Asked why three Indians - Antaryami, Sukhdev and Tilak Raj - were taken hostage, Amarjit said, "This incident was indeed surprising. Maybe they were trying to frighten the Kuwaiti company from doing business in Iraq. It was mainly supplying rations for the US army. I am sure the Indians would be let off."

Another resident of Madhara village, Kulwant Singh (42) was reportedly killed on April 23 while driving a truck through Iraq. His body was brought back to India on May 15.

"We got the news of his death on April 30 last through the Indian embassy," his widow said adding he had been abroad on several occasions in the past.

"This year he left for Kuwait on February 16, little expecting that he would be sent on dangerous assignments to Iraq. He rung up on April 14 saying that his truck was loaded and he was heading for Baghdad. He said the assignment would bring in a good pay packet," she said.

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Kulwant's elder brother Amarjit said the former's employer Althonia, a Kuwaiti company, was not even ready to admit that Kulwant was killed while driving a truck and also refused to send back his body. Some Indian friends and relatives helped the family get Kulwant's body back to the country.

"On July 13, the Indian embassy in Kuwait received a letter instructing us to submit the necessary documents to file a suit against the transport company to seek compensation," he said.

Kulwant was the sole earning member in the family and is survived by his wife and three children.

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