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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 September, 2004, 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK
Iraq contractors weather security storm
By Bill Wilson
BBC News Online business reporter

Kenneth Bigley was kidnapped from his house in Baghdad
UK worker Ken Bigley was kidnapped from this house

The recent spate of kidnapping involving contract workers in Iraq does not seem to have stopped private contractors from taking on work in the country.

Neither, it seems, has the threat of danger stopped the progress of the many reconstruction projects so vital to the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure.

At present, there are 60 UK-based companies working in Iraq, working on contracts worth a total of $2.6bn.

And, despite a growing number of workers being taken captive or killed by extreme groups, none of those firms have indicated to the government that they want to leave.

We would not take on a project if we did not think we could protect our people
Spokesman for UK firm Amec

"The security position has not improved in Iraq," a UK Government trade official told BBC News Online.

"All that has happened is that the threat has changed, from bombings and shootings to kidnappings, but the level of threat has remained constant.

"Many of these are experienced companies used to working in difficult conditions in countries like the Yemen and Nigeria."

'Storm clouds'

Many of the firms in Iraq are members of the British Consultants and Construction Bureau (BCCB), which liaises with foreign governments to identify commercial opportunities for its members.

Currently 30 of its members are working in Iraq.

"We look, as those companies do, as the storm clouds continue to gather over Iraq," Graham Hand, chief executive of the BCCB told BBC News Online.

"But those I have spoken to are happy to stay in Iraq, they are taking precautions, and are signed up with one of reputable security firms, such as Control Risks.

"But these are all experienced firms and workers, we are not talking about families going out, or young people."

He said the BCCB's members generally fell into two camps with regard to Iraq - those who would not go there if "pushed with a bargepole", and those who were happy to be there "making money".

Security monitored

One British firm in Iraq is Amec.

It has signed three reconstruction projects with the US firm Fluor, in power, water and waste infrastructure projects.

"We monitor the security situation on a day-to-day basis, and have done so since we went out there earlier this year, " a company spokesman told BBC News Online.

"If they then need to visit a particular project we have security people who go there with them. We would not take on a project if we did not feel we could provide security to our people.

Iraqi police frisk a man at a checkpoint
Security remains a major concern across Iraq

"If our security advisors said they could not protect us in Iraq then we would have to look again at the situation, but that has not happened."

Earlier this month, a cross-party committee of the US Congress criticised the Bush administration for the slow progress of reconstruction in Iraq.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed frustration that only $1bn of the $18.4bn reconstruction fund approved last year had been spent.

However, other international bodies point out that a lot of money has been allocated to projects, many of which are in the pipeline and nearing completion.

'Moving ahead'

The World Bank says that it has managed to allocate most of the $400m in its Iraq trust fund.

"We are reaching critical mass in terms of our reconstruction projects," Faris Hadad, head of the bank's mission to Iraq told BBC News Online.

"We are quite advanced in the sectors we are working in with the Iraqis. The text books we were working on are all prepared for the next school year.

Our work is continuing and people are seeing the work through
Roberta Rossi, USAid

"We are moving ahead with water and sanitation projects, which are critically important, in Baghdad and other urban areas."

The bank does not implement any of the projects, but works with the relevant Iraqi ministries.

In fact there are no World Bank employees in Iraq, and its mission headquarters is based in Amman, Jordan.

"I would be lying if I said security was not an issue, but our staff are not in Iraq. But the security issue is a systematic one, and the situation there has not deflected us from any of our projects."

'Experienced companies'

Similarly, the US government's Agency for International Development (USAid) says its projects are continuing apace, despite heightened security fears.

It says it has spent $2bn of the $4.18bn allocated to it, some of which was from the $18.4bn reconstruction fund and some of which an earlier tranche of money from Congress.

"Our work is continuing and people are seeing the work through. We are working closely with our partners, such as Bechtel, who are experienced companies," USAid's Roberta Rossi told BBC News Online.

"They knew what they were getting into when they bid for the contracts."

And she said that an indication of the progress could be seen in the fact a new bridge was due to open in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town.

Meanwhile, the UK Government official observes: "The situation generally remains a very serious one to Westerners in Iraq, and that includes journalists and aid workers.

"There are groups there who will shoot first and ask questions later."

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