Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Iraq awards wireless telephone licenses to three Arab companies

By Tarek Al-Issawi
The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's reconstruction efforts got a boost Monday with the awarding of licenses for wireless phone networks that are expected to begin operating within weeks in a country the cellular revolution bypassed.

The licenses were awarded to three Middle Eastern companies that have investors in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

Each winning bidder is putting up a refundable $30 million bond for the license, which is to last two years. Collectively, they will also pay $9 million to fund a wireless regulatory agency.

"This is an important day for Iraq," Communications Minister Haider Jawad al-Aubadi said. "Iraq badly needs the mobile system to enhance the security of the country."

The mobile system will especially help in Baghdad, where 12 landline telephone exchanges were knocked out during the U.S.-led invasion last spring.

Nationwide, one in four phone lines remains out of service. Before the war, Iraq had a paltry three phone lines for every 100 people.

The wireless buildup will bring hundreds of millions of foreign dollars into Iraq, where continuing guerrilla violence against U.S.-led occupation forces could delay major redevelopment investment.

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