BRITISH contractors have mounted a hushhush lobbying campaign to pick up reconstruction work in Iraq.
UK firms are already preparing to bid for work but are eager to avoid accusations of insensitivity and anxious not to be seen to be attempting to cash in on opportunities while war footage involving British forces is beamed back home.
Colin Adams, chief executive of the British Consultants and Construction Bureau, said up to 30 contractors had registered on its database expressing interest in post-war construction work.
But he added: 'We are having to tread a very fine line between doing nothing and being seen to be ambulance-chasing.
'There is no question of this being seen as a 'work bonanza' as such, because that has obscene connotations at the moment.'
A source at Northern Irish contractor Mivan, which worked in Iraq from 1981 until the start of the first Gulf war in 1991 and helped to build one of Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces in the capital Baghdad, said: 'We know the area and we are always interested in construction work but we have to be very careful about what we say right now.'
Mr Adams said 80 firms from a number of industries had expressed interest in post-war rebuilding work.
He added: 'A good third of these are those connected with the infrastructure and construction-related industries.'
About 15 firms met Government agency Trade Partners UK in London two weeks ago to discuss potential work in Iraq.
One source at the meeting said: 'The Government gave a practical assessment of the way in which they might be able to help. But they were left in no doubt by us that they needed organised assistance to get UK firms into Iraq.'
Before they go into Iraq contractors want to be assured legal and financial frameworks are in place and a system is set up for international dispute resolution.
Trade and Industry secretary Patricia Hewitt told the House of Commons last week that she would like to see British companies play a substantial role in rebuilding work and was talking to contractors about getting work in Iraq.