Contractors use armoured cars to ferry workers around amid bomb attacks, lorry hijackings and death threats
by Mark Leftly in Basra British and Iraqi contractors working in Basra have suffered a string of horrifying attacks in recent months, Building can reveal.

In one attack in October, Mott MacDonald consultant Graham Hopps had his upper arm shattered by a roadside improvised explosive device. An Iraqi engineer was killed by the same explosion.

In other incidents:

  • A South African engineer working for Mott MacDonald was badly shaken by an improvised explosive device last month.

  • The life of Baghdad-born Halcrow development manager Samir Fattah was publicly threatened by a local political boss during a contract meeting.

  • An Iraqi subcontractor for Halcrow had his truck hijacked as he transported a generator from Baghdad to Basra – a woman and child in a nearby taxi were killed.

  • In December, an Iraqi contractor working on the Ham Dan sewage plant project 5 km outside Basra had his son kidnapped. He received a ransom demand for $30,000. Eventually $5000 secured his release.

Hilary Benn, the secretary of state for international development, warned that contractors were under particular threat. He said: "There are people trying to attack construction projects – they are trying to attack a range of people working on them."

A Mott MacDonald statement confirmed that one of its employees was injured in a roadside explosion in Basra on 28 October 2003 while travelling with a military convoy. It also confirmed that on 28 February an improvised explosive device damaged a vehicle that one of its staff was travelling in. The explosion did not injure any of the vehicle's passengers.

People are trying to attack construction projects and those working on them

Hilary Benn, secretary of state for international development

Dick Trimble, who heads Halcrow's operations in Iraq, said that the firm has stepped up security. He said: "Things have got steadily worse.

Costain signs Kurdish infrastructure deal

Contractor Costain has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Kurdish government in northern Iraq to draw up a masterplan for infrastructure work.

Costain chief executive Stuart Doughty said that early work was expected to include the rebuilding of the local airport and healthcare, water and transport projects.

Doughty said: “The Kurds want us to tidy up the airport. We will also work on a hospital by the airport.”

He added: “We’ve gone into work in harmony with the Kurds. We are the only British contractor in northern Iraq.”

Costain will work as a project manager, awarding projects to local firms. The company may also take on some of this work, but is likely to use local labour.

There is a team of eight to 12 people in the region, the number varies depending on how much work is undertaken at any one time. Costain has a security guard for each British employee in Iraq.

Building revealed in January that Costain was in talks with Kurds about reconstructing the region.

Costain still has concerns about the security situation in central and southern Iraq, but believes that the north is less volatile than Basra.