Indian truck drivers who returned after working in Iraq have a poor impression of American soldiers and their valour.
According to their accounts, whenever armed militants attacked a convoy of trucks ferrying supplies to US troops in Iraq, the escort vehicles carrying American soldiers, instead of protecting the convoy, would be the first to flee leaving the unarmed and hapless truck drivers to fend for themselves.
Over 50 persons who returned to India from Iraq a couple of months back are thanking their stars for having escaped the fate that befell the three Indians who were abducted by terrorists in Iraq.
"We feel sorry for Antaryami, Sukhdev Singh and Tilak Raj. Wahe Guru di kirpa naal asi thee thak vapas aagye han (By the grace of the Almighty, we managed to return home safe and sound). We hope they too would return soon. We would never go back to Iraq," truck driver Harnek Singh (30) told rediff.com over phone from his residence in Jalandhar district of Punjab.
Harnek returned to India on May 25 along with 18 fellow truck drivers from Chennai, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab after spending four-and-a-half months in Kuwait.
"Twenty-eight of us had left India for Kuwait on January 13. We were working for a company by the name of R C I Coolex, a Kuwait-based company. We were paid Rs 20,000 for driving within Kuwait and Rs 35,000 for going to Iraq. I made three trips to Iraq without any passport in February, March and April as part of a convoy of 15-20 trucks travelling under heavy escort," he recalled.
Some Indian truck drivers had been caught by people opposed to American occupation but were let off after being beaten up and in return for a promise not to return to Iraq.
What forced Harnek to return was the attitude of the American forces.
"We took food for them in 60-feet long trucks. But once inside the army camps, we were held captive at gunpoint by American soldiers and not allowed to leave. Their treatment was horrible.
"As far as their bravery is concerned, the less said the better. When a convoy was attacked, the escort vehicles would simply speed off in different directions and leave the hapless truck drivers to fend for themselves," he said.
Tarlok Singh (43) of Kalabakra village in Jalandhar district returned to India on the same day as Harnek. He not only corroborated what the other truckers told rediff.com but also gave a vivid description of an April 10 attack on a convoy of trucks.
"As the convoy of 18 trucks moved from Kuwait to Tikrit via Baghdad, we came under heavy fire soon after we had passed the Iraqi capital.
"A glass splinter entered the eye of Abdul Shakoor of Kolkata, who was driving the first truck. Another driver Aroop Singh was hit in both the thighs and was bleeding but did not stop. The three escort vehicles in the front simply sped off and the one at the back took a U-turn and sped back to Baghdad.
"We sped on touching speeds of 135 kilometres per hour. The bodies of the trucks had gaping holes all over. It was only after we had covered six kilometers that the firing stopped. Once we reached Tikrit, we got Aroop admitted to a hospital and 15 days later he was taken back to Kuwait but only after we raised a hue and cry about it," Tarlok Singh told rediff.com.
Both Harnek Singh and Tarlok Singh declared that they would prefer to die of starvation rather than work in Kuwait or Iraq.
"We are now planning to work in Dubai where we had worked earlier. Until then, we would cultivate our land and look after our families. After the abduction of the three Indian truck drivers in Iraq, there is no question of even thinking of returning to Kuwait," they swore.Other Indian truck drivers still working in Kuwait are now planning to return home and look for greener pastures elsewhere.