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Iraq names wireless winners

/ Source: Reuters

Iraq said on Monday it had awarded three GSM mobile phone network licenses to consortia led by an Egyptian and two Kuwaiti companies, ending months of speculation about which technology would be chosen.

The Iraqi Communications said the three sought-after contracts had been awarded to a group including Egypt’s Orascom Telecommunications, a grouping including Kuwait’s National Mobile Telecommunications and a third consortium including Kuwait’s MTC.

Egypt’s OT will help build and run the key network in Baghdad and central Iraq, MTC’s consortium has won the contract for southern Iraq and National Mobile Telecommunications, also known as Wataniya Telecom, has clinched the deal for the north. All consortia include Iraqi partners and Arab telecoms firms.

Ending months of controversy over which mobile phone technology would be chosen for Iraq, Communications Minister Haidar al-Ebadi confirmed that Iraq had opted for GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications).

Industry experts have long expected new Iraqi mobile phone networks to be based on GSM technology, which is already used across the Middle East and would therefore allow cell phone customers to travel across the region using just one phone.

Political pressure
But the issue was clouded after one U.S. lawmaker in March urged top politicians, including U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to ensure that rival U.S.-backed technology CDMA be deployed to safeguard American jobs and profits.

The licenses are seen as among the most lucrative and high-profile contracts to be offered in post-war Iraq, as mobile phones were not available in the country during Saddam Hussein’s rule — and much of the country’s land-line network was destroyed in the U.S.-led war which ousted Saddam in April.

One official said the consortium that won the central Iraq license also included Allied SA and a Palestinian businessman living in Cairo, Alaa Lel Khawaja.

He said the group that would run the northern network also included Asia-Cell and the United Gulf Bank from Bahrain and other members of the consortium that won the southern license are Dijla Communications and Kharafi National.

Bahrain’s Batelco has already tried to set up a GSM service in Baghdad, before being ordered by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to withdraw and reapply for a license under the new regulation. A Kuwaiti service was also briefly available.

The U.S. Army and development workers now use a network in Baghdad built by WorldCom Inc., the bankrupt U.S. telecom firm that is doing business under the name MCI, but services are barred to ordinary Iraqis.