US President George W. Bush is to give British companies the right to bid for lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq as a reward to his wartime ally Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Times newspaper said yesterday.
The newspaper quoted a leading Bush administration official as saying Bush would make the announcement, as a "goodwill gesture" when he visits Britain next week.
"British firms are excellent firms and I'm sure they will be able to bid competitively," the official said. "I can't prejudge the process. But let's just say it's likely."
Bush has signed a US$87.5 billion spending package for Iraq, and nearly US$20 billion of that will go on reconstruction work, most of which will be done by private contractors.
The contracting process in Iraq has been severely criticized, both outside the US for giving much of the prime business to US firms and in Congress, where allegations have been flying about cronyism and favoritism in handing out work.
A US defense official announced on Monday that two conferences would be held in Washington and London next week for prospective contractors to see "where we are going" and said the conferences would enhance the transparency of the contracting process.
Anti-Bush sentiment is strong in Britain and thousands of people are expected to demonstrate against the war when he arrives.
A poll on Tuesday showed 60 percent of Britons strongly disapprove of his handling of Iraq.