Despite security panics and mass evacuations over kidnappings and murders of foreign nationals, UK firms working in Iraq are going nowhere. The construction contracts may be juicy, but is this too big a risk to take?
British contractors are staying put in Iraq despite the spate of recent kidnappings involving foreign nationals. More than 40 non-Iraqis have been kidnapped in recent weeks and three UK nationals have been killed. Unlike the French and German governments, however, the UK has not recommended that its nationals leave Iraq – although it does advise against all but the most essential travel to the country.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s advice to stay put has influenced at least one UK contractor. A spokesperson at Halcrow told Building that, as there was no official recommendation to evacuate, it would stand its ground. Amec said that its five staff in Iraq would also be remaining in the country, but stressed that they well guarded by private security and the coalition. Costain also said that its four workers in Kurdistan would be staying put, but that they would only be working very discretely within Iraqi ministries.

The risk to British contractors is growing. According to Paul Rees of security training company Centurion Risk Assessment Services, working in Iraq is now more hazardous than ever. A recent Centurion newsletter warns of highway robbers with rocket propelled grenades, ambushes, dummy roadblocks and improvised explosive devices. Graham Hopps of Mott MacDonald knows of such risks – his upper arm was shattered by a roadside IED last October, and an Iraqi engineer was killed in the same attack.

Rees’ company offers combat-zone awareness training to civilians working in dangerous areas. Rees said that he was appalled at how many contractors are sending workers to Iraq with no training, body armour or specialised first aid gear.

The withdrawal of foreign nationals could seriously delay the completion of reconstruction projects in Iraq. The US Marine Captain Bruce Cole, who works with the CPA contract management office told Australia’s ABC news: “We know there are security problems. It has impacted on the schedule of reconstruction.”

The airlifting out of Iraq of 800 Russian contractors in particular could seriously affect Iraq’s ability to supply electricity to its citizens. The Technoprom energy firm has said that all 370 of its employees would be leaving Iraq. Although the Iraqis have the capability to maintain the power stations, it is the Russians who possess the skill and experience to make the equipment required to run them in the first place.