Iraq could be on tourist map 'within three years'

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The Independent Online

The man appointed by the Government to assess business opportunities in Iraq believes the country has "great potential" for tourism in as little as three years.

Tony Allum, leader of the Iraq Industry Working Group (IIWG), will present his findings to the Government on Friday following a secret trip to Baghdad earlier this month.

As part of the visit he met with the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, the British Office in Baghdad, Iraqi businessmen and officials.

Mr Allum told The Independent on Sunday: "I believe that in the long term there will be tourism opportunities in Iraq. It won't happen tomorrow but perhaps in three to five years' time. Iraq has tremendous assets; it is the cradle of civilisation."

Before America and Britain invaded Iraq, specialist British travel agencies arranged tours around the country's archaeological sites. Iraq is home to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and is the birthplace of Abraham. But looting has depleted many of its historic treasures.

The visit to Iraq by Mr Allum, who is also the chairman of engineering and construction consultancy Halcrow, was kept secret because of security fears. He was accompanied by IIWG members Mike Prisk of consultancy Black & Veatch and Bill Henderson of Trade Partners UK, part of the Department of Trade and Industry. In Baghdad they met Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt, herself on a hushed-up visit to the Iraqi capital.

The IIWG has concluded that security, a lack of banking facilities, poor telecommunications and problems with the supply of water and electricity present serious problems for British companies doing business in Iraq. But the group believes that there are "great opportunities" once basic reconstruction is complete.

Mr Allum said: "There has been a lot of talk that the Americans have stitched up all the work. But when we get to phase two, British companies will have the opportunity in their own right."

Mike O'Brien, the trade minister, commented: "What we need to do is make sure we get our fair share. And when I say our fair share I mean maybe a little bit more than our fair share."