HABUR BORDER GATE, Turkey (AP) – The line of trucks at the Turkish border crossing into Iraq stretches for five miles, a sign that despite kidnappings and beheadings, thousands of Turks are still willing to risk their lives to haul cargo to Iraq.

Selahattin Turan is one of them, though he has his fears.

The last time he drove a load of drinking water to a U.S. military base in Iraq, Iraqi gunmen shot out one of his tires, dragged him from his cab, kicked him unconscious and tossed him into a drainage ditch.

But with a family of eight to feed and few other jobs in the impoverished Turkish southeast, Turan says he’s likely to go back to Iraq next month.

“To survive I have to go,” said Turan, who has been driving to Iraq for the past 17 years. “I can’t do anything else … and feed my children.”

In other parts of the world, the story is similar.

More than 100 Filipinos have managed to sneak into Iraq from Turkey for jobs, and thousands have protested in Manila to demand that the government reverse its decision and allow workers to travel to Iraq legally, officials in Manila said.

In Pakistan, workers have defied a government travel advisory to seek out jobs in Iraq that can pay three times the average annual income of $800.

The dangers are extreme. More than 150 foreigners have been taken hostage by militants. Thirty have been killed, including six Turks.

Two truckers from Deger Transportation, the company that Turan works for, are currently hostages – one so far for seven weeks, the other for two weeks, company president Mehmet Emin Deger said. One other trucker from the company has been killed.

In the latest abduction, a group identifying itself as the Islamic Brigade in Mosul released a video Saturday showing two Turkish drivers it said it kidnapped on a highway near the northern city. Two days earlier, a video from a different group showed another Turkish hostage being beheaded.

Many companies, including Turkish firms, have pulled out of Iraq citing the risks and many truckers are refusing to go there. Those who go are demanding extra pay if the trip takes them to dangerous areas of central Iraq, often several hundred dollars for each trip, truckers said.

Some 2,000 trucks cross the border every day from Turkey, and that trade is crucial to the overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast of Turkey, the poorest region of the country.

Turkish exports to Iraq hit $1.2 billion in the first nine months of the year and are expected to reach $1.5 billion by the end of the year, Ercument Aksoy, president of the Turkish-Iraqi business council said.

To improve security, many Turkish truckers hauling supplies for Iraqi civilians began unloading late last year in overwhelmingly Kurdish northern Iraq, which has been spared much of the violence of the insurgency. Iraqi truckers drive those supplies to the rest of Iraq.

Turkish supplies for U.S. bases, mostly gasoline and water, are still hauled directly to bases in the center of Iraq, but those vehicles now go in convoys escorted by U.S. Humvees with mounted machine guns.

Most of the recent attacks against Turkish truckers have targeted convoys that truckers say are poorly guarded.

Deger, whose firm mostly transports gasoline to U.S. bases, says his business has fallen 80 percent in the last few months, with drivers afraid to ply that route and the U.S. military looking for other suppliers.

Servet Yagmur said that when he last drove to Iraq, on Oct. 7, insurgents hit a gasoline truck in his convoy with a rocket-propelled grenade, damaging the vehicle, but not harming the driver.

“I promised myself I would never go to Iraq again, but when I came back to Turkey, I couldn’t find anything else to do so now I’m going back again,” Yagmur said, sitting in a mile-long line of tanker trucks waiting to cross. That line is separate from the five-mile line of trucks that haul civilian supplies, mostly to the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.

Turan was driving the last truck of an oil convoy in August when a black Opel pulled behind his truck.

Two men in the back seat flashed a Kalashnikov assault rifle at him and ordered him to pull over, Turan said. There was no Humvee behind him.

Terrified that he was about to be kidnapped, Turan swerved his truck to the right and left, hoping to run the car off the road.

The men inside fired three shots into the windows of Turan’s truck, shattering a side window, Turan said. Then they shot out one of his tires sending his truck skidding into a nearby field, he said.

Two men wearing ski masks ran from the Opel to the truck, wrenched Turan out of the cab, threw him to the ground and kicked him in the head until he went unconscious, Turan said.

“When I opened my eyes I saw one man was pointing a Kalashnikov at me, but the second man stopped him,” Turan recalled. “Thanks to God and him, I wasn’t killed.”

The men then beat Turan again before throwing him into a canal at the side of the field, Turan said.

Back in his three-room cement home in southern Turkey, Turan is struggling with whether to go back.

“If they don’t give us better security, I won’t go back,” said Turan, sitting in his sparse living room.

“Nothing is more important than my son’s life,” added his father, Sait, as he fingered red prayer beads.

But a few minutes later, Sait Turan was angrily waving a doctor’s prescription for his eye medicine and explaining how he can’t afford to buy the medicine. And Selahattin Turan’s mother, Turkiye, pointed out that the family can no longer afford books for his three school-aged children.

“I don’t want him to go to Iraq, but what else can he do?” asked Turkiye. “To feed us and his children, he must go.”

“Thank God we were able to see him again,” she then added in a soft voice.



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