Invest in Iraq? Are you serious? Well, Steve Neely certainly is.

This former US army officer has chosen Bradford as the European base of an organisation that wants to encourage western businesses to see war-torn Iraq as a major opportunity rather than as a burden.

Steve is a strategist with a doctorate from George Washington University who spent 31 years in the US military, serving in the Gulf War as senior artillery officer.

The former Lieutenant Colonel retired from the army in 1996 after four years attached to the Pentagon on the staff of the US Defence Secretary.

He spent about 20 years serving in the Middle East, in both Arab countries and Israel. He is married to an Iraqi.

Steve came to Bradford at the end of last year to set up the European office of the Iraq Economic Development Group, a privately-controlled Iraqi company that was formed in 2005 to help businesses to invest there.

Its first UK offices have been opened at the Gumption Centre in Glydegate to financially manage its business under British law, making it unique among Iraqi companies.

The IEDG is dedicated to rebuilding Iraq economically and physically by attracting investment, providing products and services, and creating jobs.

An estimated £50.8 billion will be spent on construction projects alone in Iraq over the next five years. Overall, £114 billion is needed from international investment in that time.

Steve chose Bradford over Manchester as IEDG's UK base due to its convenient location for air travel to the Middle East, the availability of specialist support at the University of Bradford and co-operation from Bradford Chamber of Commerce.

He started as a one-man band but has recently recruited a number of staff to help him introduce local and national UK businesses to potentially-lucrative contracts.

Steve said: "Iraq is an economy in transition which is moving ahead however awkwardly without guidance or apparent insight. The potential of this unique emerging market is enormous.

"Iraq's economy has been devastated by recent events ranging from war to UN sanctions in unrelenting combination for nearly 30 years.

"Many portions of the country have seen no domestic or international investment for decades. This country of plentiful natural and human resources lags far behind other countries economically.

"Today, Iraq produces very little of what it consumes. The first stage of growth in Iraq will require imports of more than 80 per cent of materials."

And this is the key message that Steve and his Bradford-based team are spreading to local, national and European companies who could be on the threshold of a massive business opportunity.

IEDG recently hosted an international delegation on an investment tour of Iraq. Steve led a three-day meeting in Irbil for members of the Helsinki Agreement Group and IEDG investors.

The delegation included fund managers with £500 billion worth of assets under their management.

The tour enabled investors to see first-hand where their money was being spent, to witness the work taking place and to provide them with a detailed briefing of the economic and political developments in the country.

The meeting also provided the chance for initial discussions to take place on the possibility of creating a mutual fund to provide private sector investment opportunities to overcome problems associated with Iraq's small stock market.

Steve said: "The tour was a first for the IEDG and a huge success with very positive feedback from everyone involved. Delegates representing groups and individuals with significant wealth took the opportunity to see the work that is taking place to rebuild Iraq and discuss potential investment opportunities.

"Working closely with such influential partners is the only way Iraq will regenerate its economy and communities because the country needs significant external investment in nearly every industry."

Steve says that while the US and other governments were committed to rebuilding Iraq, most of the funding and the products and services required would need to come from the private sector and this presented once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for UK business.

Steve said: "Iraq has been described as an entrepreneur's paradise, making it the perfect time to invest."

Companies can benefit by investing directly into the IEDG's many commercial projects, participating in public-private partnerships with which it has strong connections and by taking advantage of its established contacts and distribution links to supply high-quality materials, products and services Steve feels that, because of the recent war Iraq was misunderstood in the West. Iraqis would prefer to deal with the West rather than the Chinese and the opportunities for exports of goods and services to Iraq were immense.

The country needed physically rebuilding with everything from bricks and cement for buildings and road construction, to sophisticated petro-chemical plants.

Tim Bailey, international manager at Bradford Chamber of Commerce, said: "Trade is happening in and around the edges of Iraq. We are issuing export paperwork on behalf of companies in the region who are selling essential equipment via Jordan including building and maintenance equipment, protective coatings for structures. automotive spares, crematoria equipment and dyestuffs.

"There are some huge US and European aided projects and we are keen to help Steve and his team raise awareness of the opportunities."