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Saudi and Kuwait links could hit UK firms' Iraq work

BRITISH CONTRACTORS are failing to win work in Iraq because of their insistence on using historical ties with Middle Eastern firms, Iraqi engineers have warned.

The British-Iraqi engineers society AlKindi told NCEI that UK firms are mistaken if they think that using labour from neighbouring countries will help when trying to win reconstruction work.

Attempts to use foreign Arab labour in Iraq would inevitably stir up resentment and cause security problems, said Al-Kindi committee member Mohammed Khalif Alderajy.

'Kuwaiti and Saudi firms are seeking Iraqi engineers because they understand that Arab workers are seen as Saddam supporters and are no longer welcome in Iraq, ' explained Alderajy.

Neighbouring countries are thought to have benefited from illegal trade with Iraq during Saddam's regime.

'We strongly advise any British firms intending to work in Iraq to study the market and Iraqi mentality before investing a single penny, ' Alderajy added.

British firms such as Costain, which is 23% owned by Kuwaiti firm Kharafi, have so far failed to win much work from Bechtel, the American contractor chosen by the US government to administer the first tranche of work.

Of the subcontracts let by Bechtel, UK firms have won just 17%. US firms have claimed 25% and Iraqi firms 36%.

A second tranche of contracts is due to be announced by US Congress 'imminently' thought to be worth around ú14bn. As with the first tranche, the work will be broken down into sectors, with one US firm managing subcontracts for each sector.

But UK firms are not optimistic about success: 'There is a general mood that the US will again ignore the experience of British firms, ' said Black & Veatch business development manager Jim Wilson.

Wilson said there should be more scope to draw on Britain's long association with Middle East countries.

'There is a lot of frustration because the vast British experience is not being called upon. Associations between UK and other Middle East firms could have played a part in this.'

Costain insisted that its relationship with Kharafi was not a hindrance. 'Although we have not won any work in Iraq so far, progress has been made. We have ongoing meetings with the Kurdish government and have received valuable local feedback.'

Kharafi was not a hindrance. 'Although we have not won any work in Iraq so far, progress has been made. We have ongoing meetings with the Kurdish government and have received valuable local feedback.'

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