The biggest group of British companies since the Gulf War plans to travel to the Baghdad Trade Fair in November, brushing off threats of war and defying government advice to steer clear of Iraq.
The London-based trade promotion group Middle East Association (MEA) said at least six British companies would be looking for business in Baghdad, with another six waiting to sign up if it became clear no military action was imminent.
It will be the first time an organised group of British companies — as opposed to one or two individual firms — has attended the Baghdad fair since the 1990-91 Gulf crisis triggered by Baghdad’s invasion of Kuwait.
”We’ve got six (firms) lined up with about another six waiting to see what the situation is going to be in early November,” said Saad Hadi of Orient Exhibitions, which is working with MEA to promote British involvement at the fair.
He was speaking before Iraq’s decision on Monday to let weapons inspectors back into the country without conditions after an absence of nearly four years.
Hadi said the groups were looking for contracts to supply medical kit, water treatment facilities and oil industry parts like pumps and pipes — all of which Iraq can buy under exemptions to the United Nations sanctions imposed in 1990.
”They are all working with Iraq and looking to continue their involvement. They are not looking (for contracts) under a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq,” Middle East Association director Brian Constant told Reuters.
The planned visit comes amid warnings from the United States, with strong public backing from Britain, that Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein faces being overthrown unless he can show he has rid his country of weapons of mass destruction.
Britain has reacted cautiously to Saddam’s latest offer.
”Let’s not forget Saddam has a history of playing games on these matters,” said a representative for Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office.
Constant said his association wrote to Blair last month expressing concern that Britain’s support for the hawkish US stance on Iraq could damage Britain’s 4,7-billion pound trade balance with the wider Middle East.
”In certain circumstances British support for an American assault on Iraq, let alone participation by British forces in an American-led attack, could severely damage our commercial interests in the region,” the letter warned.
Constant said that in spite of Foreign Office advice warning Britons against all visits to Iraq, the government had not sought to dissuade the private trade mission from going.
One official told him it would be ”anomalous” for Britain, which helped draft a United Nations resolution this year aimed at speeding supply of civilian goods to Iraq, to try and stop the companies from attending the fair, he said.
Hadi said the companies would check their travel plans before leaving for the fair, which is due to open on November 1.
”If in the last week of October we see a very strong possibility that the Americans or the British are going to go in November then obviously we are going to review our plans,” he said. ”As it stands I think it is maybe safe to go before the end of the year.” – Reuters