During eight hours of intense "networking" on Sunday, 300 participants from 17 countries listened to how subcontractors could get a share in the multi-billion dollar deals awarded to major US firms. 

The experts included representatives of US lead contractors and officials of the US-led occupation and its Programme Management Office (PMO) which manages the $18.4 billion Washington has allocated to Iraq. 

In the view of many, the escalation of violence that followed the murder of four US civilian contractors at the end of March had been "stressful", but not the end of the road. 

"Security is something that fluctuates. We have seen times when it has been very stressful like the past two weeks," said Susan Hamrock, policy adviser in Iraq for the US department of commerce. 

"Hopefully we will see resolution to the problems," she told
reporters at the workshop in Amman. 

"The Iraqis are working hard to return their country to normal
... Iraq will continue to be a market that favours foreign
industries," said Hamrock, as she expounded on the breadth of business opportunities there. 

Breakdown 'anticipated'

PMO press officer John Proctor acknowledged that a breakdown in security in Iraq was "something we have anticipated" and that the latest violence did have a "minor impact" on some projects in Iraq, but not those of his office. 

"We have seen an impact regionally, not countrywide, on Iraqi
employee attendance (and) day labour ... but none of our projects are behind schedule at this point," he said. 

"We have seen an impact regionally, not countrywide, on Iraqi
employee attendance (and) day labour ... but none of our projects are behind schedule at this point"

John Proctor,
PMO press officer

Last week, US contractor General Electric said there had been delays in some of its projects in Iraq due to safety consideration, while engineering giant Bechtel said it was continuing work on most of 50 US government projects there. 

"Work is continuing at roughly 90% of our work sites. The remaining few sites have experienced temporary interruptions," the San Francisco company said in a statement on Friday. 

'Bump in the road'

The security issue "is a bump in the road (led by) a minority of people in Iraq who do not want to see the free enterprise system succeed, because they know, if it does, they lose control over the people," said David Harlan of the US Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Centre (HACC). 

"I think that this should not stop them and I don't think it
will stop them from making plans with Iraqi partners to come into that area," he said, adding that he is expecting security concerns to be resolved in the next 30 days. 

The HACC was set up in March 2003 to provide information to
businesses and entrepreneurs who wish to set up shop in Iraq. 

Hamzah Habib of the Iraqi Federation of Industries said he too
believed that the violence rocking his country would soon be
contained. 

His concern was that Iraqis were not getting enough of the work being awarded by the US lead contractors. 

"This is the second conference of its kind that I have attended and now I say Iraq for Iraqis," said Habib, who runs his own contracting firm and chairs the Furat Detergent Industries Company and Furat Sulphochemical Industries. 

"That means the Iraqis should get key contracts not small and primary contracts," he said.