Consulting engineer, which has won contracts in the region, hopes to set up 200-strong division by 2006.
Consulting engineer Halcrow, which is leading the British push to win post-war reconstruction work, has set up an office in Iraq. Halcrow aims to build up its operations to more than 200 people over the next three years.

A six-strong Halcrow team, including two Iraqi nationals, has established an office in Basra. It has been awarded a contract by the Department for International Development to look into the area's water supplies.

Rab Brown, Halcrow's director for Iraq, said: "We want to establish an Iraqi company operated by Iraqi workers. At the moment, we have a small team in Basra which has been commissioned by the DfID to produce feasibility reports for repairing water infrastructure."

Before arriving in Basra, the Halcrow team was required to carry out hostile-environment training amid concerns that security was still a serious concern for western companies in the region. Thirty-three American soldiers have been killed by hostile fire since President Bush declared the war to be over in May.

Brown confirmed that Halcrow had secured a contract with US company Bechtel to redesign six of the 33 bridges damaged during the war.

We want to establish an Iraqi company run by Iraqi workers

Rab Brown, Iraq regional director, Halcrow

He said: "We have completed the designs for two of the bridges through our Dubai office. We have four left to survey, but at present it is still too dangerous to carry out that work."

Halcrow has also been subcontracted by the Great Lakes Dredging Company to carry out dredging work at the port of Umm Qasr.

News of the firm's move into Iraq came as Halcrow chairman Tony Allum returned from a three-day scoping mission there. Allum is chair of the Iraq Industry Working Group, a body set up by the government to help UK firms win reconstruction work in Iraq.

Allum said the Iraqi market was more likely to be difficult for British companies in the short term. He said: "Work will be limited, as the Americans are likely to give most of the work to the Iraqis."

Speaking at the Iraq Reconstruction Update, held this week at the Park Lane Hilton in London, Allum encouraged British delegates to re-establish contacts in Iraq.