IT'S A HOT, dusty October afternoon and Isaac He Qingming is sitting in a Baghdad cafe - a Baghdad internet cafe called Al-Atheer - attempting to conduct his business affairs. As co-founder of a China-Iraq business consultancy and the owner of Baghdad's first Chinese restaurant to open since the war, there is much to do. He, who is from Sichuan, and his partner, Hannibal Liu Lei, from Shenzhen (where the pair, anxious to avoid imitators, have legally registered their China-Iraq Commercial Consultation Company) are poised to crack the lucrative treasure-chest which is Iraq. The trouble is that there is no telephone network in Baghdad so everyone has to rely on the internet to keep in touch. That method only works in tandem with the erratic electricity system. Later on that evening, the lights fail and everyone, sighing, will resort to cigarette lighters to find their way on to the pot-holed street where, occasionally, the percussive thump of a bomb detonating somewhere in the city can be heard, interspersed with frequent gunfire. Luckily, He, who is 25, is not the sort to let civil strife stand in the way of a business opportunity. 'I like this country,' He declares. 'I think it's a lot of fun.' Whether or not he is putting on an excellent act for the benefit of some unexpected publicity (there is a mutually thrilled reaction to our encounter - 'Hong Kong people are great!'), He and Liu, who is 32, are certainly at the cutting-edge of China's global business expansion. It's also safe to say they are ploughing a lonely furrow. Asked to guess how many Chinese people there might be in Baghdad, He says, 'Less than 20. The Chinese ambassador has gone to Amman [in neighbouring Jordan] because the place is unsafe.' On a quick return visit, however, the ambassador managed to demonstrate his calligraphic skills by writing out the characters for the name of the pair's restaurant, The Chinese Dragon, before departing once more for the safety of Amman. 'The ambassador is a very good person who cares about us,' says He. 'The problem is that the Chinese government was against the war, so they did not get any business contracts from the Coalition Provisional Authority [CPA]. It is all the British and American firms.' Where some might see this carving up of the pie as a commercial blow, He is convinced that US troops are craving Chinese food. 'It's like this,' he begins, sitting in The Chinese Dragon in the Al-Andalus Hotel, and which, apart from a few small Chinese paintings dangling from the ceiling, is not noticeably Oriental in its decor. 'I graduated in business administration in Chengdu, and I wanted to go to the US to finish my studies. I went for my visa application, but it was after September 11  and I failed. But I wanted to see what the world is like so I got a ticket to Amman, then I came by road to Baghdad, and I arrived here on July 17.' So September 11, in fact, is the reason both He and the coalition forces are in Baghdad? 'Yes! I met Hannibal on a website,' He says 'He was interested in going to Baghdad for business - and when we got here, I saw a girl soldier, in a military car, biting on her food and I can see that she doesn't like it. Then an American soldier said, 'Where can we get Chinese food? Can you do it for us?' This inspired us.' But their plans did not stop there and there are definite moves to expand the China-Iraq Commercial Consultation Company. Liu's brother, Chris, has arrived in Baghdad, having been fraternally alerted to its business possibilities. He is going to import answering machines, ready for the day when there's a phone network. And, in a further heroic effort to bridge the culinary gap between the two nations, he is in negotiations to import 100 tonnes of garlic from Shenzhen into Iraq this winter. The pair were hoping to open their own restaurant, but it soon became apparent that going it alone was not a sensible option. 'We have to have powerful local people to co-operate with us,' He says, lowering his voice. 'People will feel envy and because of the security situation, we need protection.' It so happened that they were staying at the Al-Andalus Hotel where the owner was happy to rent them space and let them use the kitchen - which is why hummus, falafel and kebabs are also on the menu at the restaurant. The dishes offer a smattering of standard westernised Chinese fare (chicken and cashew nuts, rice, beef in oyster sauce) prepared by two chefs flown in from Hubei province. The cuisine may not be the most memorable Chinese meal you'll ever have, but the geographical toil that has gone into sourcing its ingredients compensates for the lack of spiciness. 'We don't have pork here,' explains He, regretfully. 'We get the food from the Iraqi markets - beef, fish, potatoes, eggplant. It's hard to find vegetables with leaves - broccoli, if you're lucky. And you can't buy mushrooms in Iraq, it's impossible, so when the cooks came from Wuhan they brought a big bag of mushrooms and fungus and soya sauce, and woks from Shenzhen, with them.' In theory, The Chinese Dragon is in a perfect location: it's at the back of the Palestine Hotel, which is itself next to the Sheraton Hotel, where most of the journalists who pass through Iraq stay at some time. Because of the lack of a telephone network, the two entrepreneurs pass out leaflets at both hotels to lure hungry hacks. 'Do you know the Fox News? They order from us - US$500 of food - because it's Friday and everything is closed,' He says. 'And the Americans love our food. They come for the spring rolls. We give them a 20 per cent discount because they're doing a good job.' At this point He, who is wearing a T-shirt which proclaims 'Plenty Tough Sport', leans forward. 'We went to the CPA headquarters with a business plan. The Americans are very concerned about their food resources. It comes from the US or Kuwait to guarantee food security - so there's no poison, nothing like that - but we are talking to Kellogg, Brown and Root [KBR], the main supplier to the CPA, and they're very interested.' KBR is a subsidiary of US vice-president Dick Cheney's former company, Halliburton. When people rail against the 'jobs for the boys' coalition mentality in Iraq, it's usually the interlinked circle of KBR, Halliburton and Cheney that is cited as a prime offender. 'I'm very appreciative of their help. Once we get a restaurant in the compound at CPA headquarters, I am confident we can get a phone. And you know, then we have much bigger plans than a restaurant - we want to act as a bridge between the Chinese and Iraqi people.' The day after this conversation, He goes to the CPA for a meeting. While he is there, a suicide car-bomb explodes at the Baghdad Hotel near The Chinese Dragon and at least six people are killed. Amid this violence, it's clear He likes to see himself as a daredevil. He goes fishing on the Tigris River (a potentially rash act of vulnerable exposure), he wanders the streets after curfew ('Nothing happens to me; I'm a lucky boy!') and he has been contemplating buying an AK47. But later that evening, he is clearly subdued. 'I want to say that I'm very appreciative of Jesus Christ and I want to say that with God all things are possible,' He says. He watches this being duly noted, then adds: 'We walk through many difficulties. Sometimes a wave of heat comes from the sun and scorches your eyes.'