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Last Updated:  Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 19:55 GMT 20:55 UK
UK firms seek Iraq contracts
Wreckage in Iraq
Iraq needs massive rebuilding work
Top British companies have pressed the government for more help in winning a slice of the key contracts for rebuilding war-torn Iraq.

Following the collapse of the Iraqi regime in central Baghdad, the British Consultants and Construction Bureau (BCCB), representing more than 300 top firms, met Whitehall officials about their concerns on Thursday.

UK firms complained they missed out on rebuilding work after 1991 Gulf War and want to ensure the same does not happen again.

BCCB says it would be reasonably satisfied with 15-20% of the rebuilding contracts, which are expected to total more than 600m.

The expertise of UK firms can help repair Iraq's shattered infrastructure more quickly, it argues.

The group is pressing for the Department for International Development to relax its rule that all its aid contracts have to go out to open tender.

None of our organisations will make a major killing out of doing this
Rod Macdonald
Association of Consulting Engineers
Colin Adams, chief executive of BCCB, said the companies had got used to the decision three years ago to implement a "no aid for trade" rule.

But he said: "Perhaps this is the first time that it has been brought so sharply into focus where the playing field ceases to be level.

"That is why we are slightly unhappy about this. We would not be in the least put out if every other country also had untied aid."

Tied aid argument

American government agency USAid routes its funding through US companies, but says that half of the work will be available for companies in other nations through sub-contracts.

The UK firms are pressing their government to help them get some of those sub-contracts and they want a UK task force to go to Iraq to assess what is needed.

They reject any suggestions they might be rushing to make a big profit out of the war.

Rod Macdonald, from the Association of Consulting Engineers, told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "There is a need and that need can be quicker satisfied by the people who have the knowledge and the understanding.

"None of our organisations will make a major killing out of doing this. They will run a good business and they are entitled to run a good business."

At Thursday's meeting, company chiefs were told more about how the process of awarding contracts would operate.

'No commercial interest'

A spokesman for the government's Trading Partners agency said changing the "no aid for trade" rule was not currently being considered.

But there could be a British trade mission to Iraq when it was safe to do so.

Reports that American companies have been lined up for key contracts have fuelled suspicion among anti-war campaigners especially.

In a BBC interview last week, Tony Blair said: "All this stuff in the media about the Americans giving out the contracts - all that has happened is that American aid, legally under American law, is tied to American trade and commerce...

"There is not question of us trying to tie up British or American commercial interest with this."


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