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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
Firms queue up for Iraqi contracts
Damaged building in Baghdad
A building in Iraq damaged by the coalition bombing campaign
More than 1,000 people from British and other European companies have turned up at a meeting in London to try to win work in Iraq.

The US engineering giant Bechtel held the event to tell subcontractors how to bid for business.

The hopeful bidders ranged from well-known names such as Costain and Balfour Beatty to a specialist tyres supplier from Essex.

As they went into the meeting, at a hotel in West London, a small group of anti-war protesters held a noisy demonstration.

Too many bidders

Bechtel was chosen by the US Agency for International Development (USAid) as the prime contractor to rebuild Iraq's shattered infrastructure after the war, in a deal worth up to $680m (416m).

Dinars and dollars
The chances are fair for everybody

Americans will always favour their own

But if one clear message came out of the meeting it was that the interest in the subcontracting work is so enormous there will not be enough work to go round.

Earlier this week, 2,000 potential subcontractors turned up to a similar meeting in Washington.

The event will now move to Kuwait where Bechtel expects hundreds more to attend.

The company's acquisition manager, Tom Elkins, said that at least 90% of the work would be sub-contracted but it would be mainly in parcels worth less than $1m.

And he estimated that as many as 10,000 companies could be vying for the work.

'No US advantage'

There have been reports that Bechtel has been told privately to favour America's coalition partners when doling out the contracts.

But Mr Elkins said this was not true. He also denied that US firms were being given a 20% price advantage by US government agencies.

And, to suggestions that French firms might be disadvantaged because of their opposition to the US-led war with Iraq he said: "The French are not excluded."

The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"Iraq's reconstruction is going to be led by Americans"

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