The British Government and some of the world's largest oil companies have pulled out of a conference in Iraq on ways to exploit the country's vast reserves.
The meeting, to be hosted by the Iraqi Oil Ministry in the southern city of Basra, was slated as the first gathering of the world's energy powerbrokers to discuss how to increase production. But many guests to the £2,000-a-ticket event have decided to pull out amid concerns over safety.
A spokesman for BP said: "We are not going because of the security situation."
UK Trade and Investment, a part of the Department of Trade and Industry charged with promoting British business interests overseas, has also decided not to attend. A spokesman said: "At one stage we were thinking of going, but security is a big issue so we have decided to wait a little while and see how the situation develops."
Shell said it hadn't yet decided whether to attend. ExxonMobil refused to comment on its plans, but is understood to have decided to pull out.
Only TotalFinaElf and ChevronTexaco confirmed their attendance.
The conference, to be held on 18-19 April, was originally scheduled for March but was postponed because of security issues.
News that so many companies have pulled out is a blow to the Iraqi Governing Council. It is desperate to attract Western oil companies so it can find new supplies of crude and increase production from existing facilities, thus generating funds for reconstruction.
The Council is worried that once the current round of reconstruction work, paid for by America, is complete then it will have little money of its own to continue improving infrastructure. Top of its agenda is providing running water and sanitation facilities.