Mercury find may fund Iraq reconstruction

A huge cache of mercury is reported to have been found in Iraq – making the rare element potentially the largest money spinner for the war-ravaged oil economy north of the Gulf.

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By  Eudore Chand Published  December 1, 2003

A huge cache of mercury is reported to have been found in Iraq – making the rare element potentially the largest money spinner for the war-ravaged oil economy north of the Gulf. News of the reported quicksilver find is rippling across the Gulf’s construction industry, which is eagerly looking forward to an official announcement from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which runs the country. Reconstruction and new construction projects are likely to take on new life once the find is confirmed and announced. Contractors have been eager to get into the country that has, as yet, not seen the raft of tenders that were expected once the war ended. Projects have been slow to take off due to a lack of security and available funds. Iraq was pledged only US $33 billion against an estimated need for US $56 billion by donors at an October meeting. “Huge resources of mercury have been found in Iraq in addition to oil,” said an industry expert close to reconstruction efforts in Iraq. “These promise to be in absolutely gigantic quantities,” he added. The find, if officially confirmed, would result in a surge of contractual activity – from exploration to commercial exploitation of the heaviest know elemental liquid, to ripple effects on the rest of the country’s economic sectors. A few drops of mercury would earn Iraq the price of a barrel of oil. Mercury was priced around US $175 per flask of 76 pounds. A barrel of oil fetches up to US $30. Iraq may be sitting on billions of dollars worth of mercury – enough to finance current projects leaving more to fund future growth, say industry experts. Spain’s Almaden mines are, since 400BC, the largest producer. Kyrgystan and Algeria also have exportable quantities. Production has been declining by about 9% annually since 1800 tonnes were produced in 1999. Mercury is used in variety of industries from thermometers and lamps at homes to production of gold, medicines, caustic soda, paint pigments and chlorine. The length and breadth of Iraq has been minutely examined by international agencies during the pre-war search for weapons of mass destruction and for evidence of a purported nuclear weapons programme. Meanwhile, the Coalition Provisional Authority said it will set up a new Iraq Infrastructure Reconstruction Office. It said the IIRO will be established in time to supervise contracts that are expected to be announced at a meeting for interested bidders in Arlington, USA on November 19. The Pentagon has promised that the IIRO would “emphasise full and open competition in awarding contracts”. The US Congress has approved US $18.5 billion in reconstruction funding for Iraq.

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