Contractors express worries over reaction of staff and insurers if they win reconstruction work.
British contractors may decide not to bid for contracts in post-war Iraq over fears that the country will be too dangerous for their personnel.

This news emerged as it became clear that the primary contracts would be carried out by US companies, and that British firms would be able to bid only for smaller subcontracts.

UK companies are concerned that they will not be able to persuade their staff to work in Iraq on reconstruction projects because of the threat from anti-western terrorist groups and remnants of the Iraqi army.

Contractors are also concerned that if they agree to carry out contracts, they could become overstretched because of the labour shortages in the British construction industry.

One leading contractor said that it was carrying a out risk assessment before deciding whether to pitch for work.

He said: "Contractors have worked in Kosovo and the Falklands but this is different. There are risks over decontamination of the land and sniper attacks."

Companies will have to persuade workers that it is safe to live and work in the region. They will have to do the same for insurance companies. Even so, premiums will almost certainly be prohibitively high.

A Balfour Beatty spokesperson said that it would carry out a detailed evaluation of the risks involved in projects before agreeing to carry out work.

He said: "The days are gone when UK construction firms just pitched for all the work that was available. There are specialised firms that deal with this type of work and they are usually from the US."

The spokesperson added, however, that Balfour Beatty had an American division and would be near the top of the list of companies able to carry out the work when it was advertised.

A Bovis Lend Lease spokesperson said: "If we worked in Iraq we would be seeking volunteers from our workforce, rather than instructing them to work out there."

Major Contractors Group chairman Bill Tallis said that the Iraqi contracts could be problematic for UK contractors.

He said: "UK construction firms are not specialised in carrying out land decontamination work. This type of climate could bring problems."

Crack team ready to go into action after war ends

A team of 55 British engineers is on standby to provide humanitarian aid in Iraq after the war finishes, writes Matthew Richards. The mobilisation is being led by RedR (Engineers for Disaster Relief), a not-for-profit organisation that maintains a register of construction professionals who can travel abroad at short notice. A further 200 engineers are also being mobilised to help rebuild the country. Agencies including UNICEF and the World Food Programme have asked RedR to find specialists in sanitation and electricity supply. A number of RedR members are in the Middle East carrying out needs assessments and training to prepare for refugees, who could number up to 6 million. RedR director Bobby Lambert said: “Most of the 55 people in the first phase of our mobilisation have been taken up by agencies.”

The 200 people in the second wave of mobilisation are ready to advise on reconstruction. But Lambert cautioned: “The main concern now is keeping people alive. It would be premature to talk about reconstruction.”