to be remedied. Apart from military and government centres and Saddam Hussein's countless presidential places, not all that much has been destroyed in the military conflict. And, in what I hope will be a new Iraqi democracy, I can't see any popular demand for the rebuilding of those palaces.
The deterioration of the Iraqi infrastructure started long before this war. A dozen years of sanctions have had their effect, together with callous neglect of popular needs by the Baath regime for a lot longer than that. Saddam gave himself and his cronies standards of accommodation of a quality few anywhere in the world could emulate, while millions of the Iraqi people were left to fester in slums. And all this in a country that, with vast oil reserves, could have given its citizens high living standards.
So there large-scale reconstruction is needed as soon as the fighting is over. But who will do it? This week's opinion poll by YouGov says it all. Support for the war and for Tony Blair is high and has increased. But support for the Americans and George Bush is far lower. And, when asked three key questions, those who responded to the poll were unequivocal.
n Question: Who should be responsible for overseeing the post-war reconstruction of Iraq ?
Answer: the UN, 64%; the United States and Britain, 31%; the USA, 3%.
n Question: A large number of building and other contracts will have to be let. Should the bidding for these contracts be open only to firms from the USA, Britain, and other coalition countries?
It looks as though the one outcome that scarcely anyone in this country wants is in danger of happening
Answer: Yes, 58%; to firms from all countries, 35%; only to American firms, 0%.
n Question: It is claimed that some reconstruction contracts have already been awarded to American firms, without firms from other countries, including Britain, having been given a chance to bid for them. Is this: Answer: (a) totally outrageous? 55%; (b) probably not justifiable? 29%; (c) probably justifiable? 11%; (d) wholly justifiable? 2%.
Yet, according to this week's Sunday Telegraph, "the US Agency for International Development said the main contracts would go to US companies, but foreigners 'might be considered for subcontracting work'." It says that, among contracts awarded, "one was for $4.8m (£3m) to Stevedoring Services of America to run the only Iraqi deepwater port, at Umm Qasr. This greatly annoyed British military officers there." So it should. It was British troops who fought hard to liberate Umm Qasr.
The objective of those troops was not only to win the port but to win the trust of the local Iraqis, in a way that the Americans had failed to. No wonder that The Sunday Telegraph tells how the British government is worried that the one outcome that scarcely anyone in this country wants is in danger of happening. It reports that our secretary of state for trade and industry, Patricia Hewitt, has contacted Washington to remind the Americans of British engineering expertise in the region. The Americans should be reminded of that – loud and long.
Contracts should be awarded to those whose history and expertise in the Middle East show them to be the best choice for the job. We must operate on a clear principle. Rebuilding post-war Iraq should be regarded not as a spoil of war but as fulfiling the need to restore a once-proud nation to the international community with an infrastructure of the highest standards.
MPs such as myself, who voted in favour of military action in Iraq, have argued that such an operation was intended to be a war of liberation for the oppressed Iraqi people. Opponents of war have contended that it was not liberation of Iraqis, but the spreading of US economic colonialism.
Gerald Kaufman is MP for Manchester Gorton and chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee.