Iraqi officials stepped up the drive to attract British firms to the region with a high-profile procurement conference this week, amid fears that security risks are deterring bids for contracts.

More than 186 private sector contractors, ranging from civil engineers to bodyguards, have been killed since the conflict began. Fifteen are missing.

The three-day Iraq procurement conference in Jordan was attended by more than 200 delegates, including many from British firms. However, an industry expert warned that most would refuse offers of work in the country.

Graham Hand, chief executive of the British Consultants and Construction Bureau, said firms that had not worked in Iraq would avoid contracts, and those already working in the region would be reluctant to accept more work.

He said: “Companies already there may contemplate taking on more, but the security needs make work very slow and expensive.

“Most of the companies out there will simply be looking to find out what the current situation is.”

Hand said there seemed little chance that the situation for firms in Iraq would improve in the near future. He said: “Companies not out there tend to say they are glad they didn’t get involved, but will take a look when the situation calms down. But there’s no sign of that happening.”

A number of British firms are engaged in rebuilding projects in Iraq, including Amec and Costain.