SEOUL, South Korea – A South Korean (search) company said Monday it has decided to withdraw its 60 workers restoring electricity lines in Iraq, after a gun attack killed two of its electricians working for the U.S. government project.
Workers for Seoul's Omu Electric Co. have been building transmission towers in northern Iraq since October under a contract with Washington Group International (search), an engineering and construction company based in Boise, Idaho.
Unidentified gunmen killed two Omu electricians and injured two others in an ambush near Tikrit (search), the home town of Saddam Hussein, on Nov. 30.
After the attack, Washington Group said it had suspended the project, part of the $110 million contract it won from the U.S. federal government earlier this fall to rebuild Iraq's power infrastructure.
"Because of security reasons, and because the workers want to return home, we have decided to bring them home as soon as we make travel arrangements," said Suh Sang-eun, an official at Seoul's Omu Electric Co, said Monday.
Omu's withdrawal highlighted difficulties the U.S. government faces in reconstructing the war-torn country amid continuing resistance from rebel forces. Restoring electricity is crucial for other reconstruction projects as well as for improving the living standard of the Iraqis.
Omu said its workers wanted to return home after the attack and had accused the company of neglecting the safety of its workers. They also demanded compensation for lost work and "psychological damage."
"There was trouble between the company and workers, but both sides have now reached an agreement and the workers will return home," Suh said, adding all the company's top officials were in Iraq.
The remains of the two dead — 46-year-old Kim Man-soo and 61-year-old Kwak Kyong-hae — were expected to arrive in Seoul later Monday, amid criticism against President Roh Moo-hyun's plans to send up to 3,000 troops to the country in support of the United States.
The casualties, South Korea's first since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March, came over a deadly weekend in which agents and diplomats from coalition partners Spain and Japan were also killed in separate attacks.