Korean Building Projects in Iraq Hang in Balance

Korean builders face serious disruptions to their construction projects in Iraq because of U.S. air strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) insurgents and increasing chaos in the war-torn country.

Some 20 Korean building firms are carrying out 40 projects worth a combined US$24.2 billion in Iraq. About 900 of their Korean staff remain there, while 400 others have been evacuated since June, when the civil war escalated.

POSCO Engineering and Construction evacuated seven staffers from the construction site of the Khabat Thermal Power Plant in northern Iraq just before the U.S. air strikes began.

Korea Gas Corporation also faces trouble. Work on its Akkas gas field project in unstable western Iraq has not yet started, so direct damage is limited and all staff have been evacuated, according to a spokesman. But he added the project "will inevitably hit a snag."

Most other projects involving Korean builders are in southern Iraq, far away from the battle zone. "In preparation for the worst-case scenario, we've worked out a step-by-step evacuation plan for about 380 Korean workers," said a spokesman for Hanwha Engineering and Construction, which is building a new town in Bismaya, about 400 km from the fighting.

Daewoo Engineering and Construction, which is building a breakwater in southern Iraq, also said its staff are safe.

Park Byung-suk of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said no Korean construction sites have suffered direct damage from U.S. air strikes, but the ministry has advised Korean builders "to refrain from visiting dangerous areas."

Iraq has descended into sectarian fighting and anarchy since the U.S.-led invasion in 2002, but now massive conquests by the ultra-hardline Islamist group ISIS have sparked fears of the impending genocide of religious minorities.

englishnews@chosun.com / Aug. 11, 2014 11:18 KST