BRITISH contractors are set to play second fiddle to US firms in the multimillion pound scramble to rebuild Iraq in the event of a second Gulf War.
American firms took the lion's share of work following the last Gulf War in 1991, with British contractors limited to a series of smaller jobs.
US companies are in pole position again to take the spoils if an American-led invasion to oust Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, goes ahead next week. US firms already eyeing up work include JA Jones, Bechtel and Parsons Brinckerhoff.
The US Army Corps of Engineers has invited proposals from contractors to provide 'a full range of design and construction services throughout a range of locations in the US Central Command area of operations'.
A USACE spokeswoman said this stretched from the horn of Africa to central Asia, including Iraq. The deadline for proposals lapsed on Tuesday.
The spokeswoman added: 'There have been no additional firms that have requested a copy of the proposal. All the firms are American.'
Britain's biggest contractor Amec, which has previously worked in Iraq and also helped out in the clear-up operation following the September 11 attacks in the US, worked in Kuwait following the last Gulf War to cap oil wells set alight by retreating Iraqi forces.
Asked if the firm was interested in carrying out work in Iraq, chief executive Sir Peter Mason remained cautious and would only say: 'If there is a war and if we are asked to.'
Funds for the rebuilding work are still being decided, but individual contracts will be valued between £300,000 and £62 million. The total value of rebuilding Iraq is expected to top £560 million.
The bulk of the finance is expected to come from the US. British Consultants and Construction Bureau (BCCB) chief executive Colin Adams said: 'We can't expect British firms to be given a major contract when the major source of funds will be the US. It would be naive to think so.'
nA BCCB fact-finding mission to Afghanistan has had to be postponed because of security fears in the country's capital, Kabul.
Mr Adams was due to take 16 consultants to Afghanistan yesterday (Wednesday) for the week-long visit. He said a new date for the trip would be set as soon as possible.