At a conference in Arlington, Virginia, but a stone's throw from the Pentagon, companies and former cabinet ministers agreed Thursday that the biggest barrier to Iraq's reconstruction is poor security.

"My boss was going to go, but after the UN bombing, he decided it was simply too dangerous," said Graeme Purdy, new business developments manager for Northern Ireland-based FG Wilson. "We need peace for business to work."

FG Wilson is a maker of electrical generators trying to sell Iraqi businesses independent power source.

Worsening security

More than 60 US soldiers have died in coordinated Iraqi resistance attacks since President George Bush declared an end to major military operations on May 1.

That's more than those killed during the war which saw the demise of Saddam Hussein. And the attacks look set to continue.

Destructive strikes on Iraq's infrastructure increase day by day, causing blackouts and preventing the restoration of basic services to Baghdad and the regions. 

Three Iraqi firemen stand next
to a blazing pipeline

Iraqis, who were promised better living conditions after the overthrow of Hussein, are becoming increasingly frustrated with the US occupation.

What is more, children are dying in hospitals because the "liberators" failed to defend key buildings during the war and have since failed to reequip them.

"The most basic thing we need to do is provide security for infrastructure," former US Secretary for Defence William Cohen, who now heads a business consulting company, told Aljazeera.net in an interview.

 "The international community must understand that it's in their interest that we succeed," he added. "We tried to set up a garden of democracy but all these weeds keep springing up."

Catch-22 

Still, offers of soldiers from Germany, Russia and India have all been rejected by the US administration, which refuses to contemplate devolving influence in Iraq for increased credibility.

Without reconstruction and corporate investment in Iraq, resistance will grow and without security, companies are unwilling to invest either money or personal.

This catch-22 will further delay efforts to hand over power to the Iraqi people and is putting at risk the future stability of the entire Middle East, Lee Hamilton, a director at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars told conference delegates.

"We need to give the rest of the world some political concessions if we want their help," Hamilton said.

"Iraqis must be able to feel able to translate their new found political freedom into political participation. We are at a critical juncture."     

The narrow window of opportunity that the US had to persuade Iraqis that their intentions were benevolent is almost closed, and US intransigence over the role of the UN in Iraq is further compounding the problem.

"We have until Christmas. It is of critically importance that Iraq succeed," added Hamilton.