Iraq's Governing Council is investigating fraud claims against Halliburton, the US construction giant which has won the lion's share of contracts to rebuild the bombed-out country.
The probe centres on allegations that staff working for the Houston-based company took bribes for awarding sub-contracts in Iraq. In January the company, which was run by US Vice-President Dick Cheney between 1995 and 2000, sacked two employees over the allegations and reported the incident to the Pentagon.
In an exclusive interview with The Independent on Sunday, Iraq's minister of public works, Nasreen Berwari, said: "Members of the Iraqi Governing Council are posing questions. I am worried about any companies having such allegations. I am yet to hear what is the real story. I always look for the real story."
Asked whether the US-appointed Governing Council would press for Halliburton to be stripped of some of its contracts if it uncovered wrongdoing, Dr Berwari said: "We would take that very seriously and we will pursue that."
The Pentagon has launched a separate criminal investigation into claims that Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root overcharged for transporting fuel into Iraq from Kuwait. Halliburton and Kellogg Brown & Root have emerged as the biggest winners in the aftermath of the war. Together they have netted $9bn (£5bn) worth of Iraqi reconstruction contracts.
But in the past few months, Halliburton has been mired in controversy. It is facing another investigation over its business dealings in Iran. The US Treasury Department is attempting to establish whether Halliburton broke trade embargoes.
In Iraq, US companies have won the largest slice of the reconstruction work. But British companies are expected to pick up more work as the sub-contracts are awarded. Dr Berwari said: "British companies have a great opportunity. The UK companies already have partnership relationships with Iraqi firms."
The minister revealed that Iraq was considering privatising its water industry to fund essential works. Last week Dr Berwari met officials from the UK Trade and Investment Department and representatives from Britain's private water industry. She said: "The UK has a history of working with Iraq. It is time to look for ways of engagement to build the meeting."
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