MCI to build Iraq's mobile network in $45M contract

MCI, the telecommunications firm formerly known as WorldCom Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection last year after disclosing a massive accounting scandal, has been awarded a $45 million contract to build a small mobile phone GSM network in Baghdad, reported the Wall Street Journal (May 15).

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By  Massoud Derhally Published  May 15, 2003

MCI, the telecommunications firm formerly known as WorldCom Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection last year after disclosing a massive accounting scandal (US $11 billion), has been awarded a $45 million contract to build a small mobile phone GSM network in Baghdad, reported the Wall Street Journal (May 15).

"We are very pleased by this news, as we have been working with the US Government and MCI to provide GSM, and ensure that Iraq had the right technology for its people, compatible with the rest of the region and the world," said Rob Conway, CEO of the GSM Association in a statement.

But the Washington Post said sources at the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), were complaining that MCI was behind schedule in getting in place a system of 5,000 to 10,000 phones up and running.

Amidst all the talk about reconstruction speculation was rife in the Middle East that mobile operator MTC Vodafone of Kuwait would be rebuilding Iraq’s mobile network.

Telecommunications giants including Lucent Technologies Inc., Motorola Inc., Qualcomm Inc, were banking on the US government, to award contracts to rebuild most of Iraq's telecommunications infrastructure.

Prior to the US led war, US Senator Darrell Issa lobbied the US government to award contracts for the creation of a telecommunications network in Iraq, to California based Qualcomm, which uses the CDMA (code division multiple access) standard. All of the Middle East uses the global system for mobile communications (GSM), which is also the standard in Europe and most of the world except for Japan and the United States.

But last week the US government held back on issuing a contract to build a telecommunications network, estimated to cost US $1 billion.

Most of Iraq's existing telephone network that existed before war broke out,served only three out of every 1,000 people, according to the Washington Post. The lack of communications has prompted a surge in the use of satellite phones. Some Iraqis are reported to have cashed in on the chaotic situation, charging as much as US $10 a minute for a call on Thuraya satellite phones.

There are already more than 60 million customers in 20 countries in the Arab world, according to the world GSM Association.

ORHA now headed by the chief U.S. administrator,L. Paul Bremer, a longtime State Department aide, is spearheading the US governments reconstruction plans in Iraq.

On May 7, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)awarded Washington DC based SkyLink Air and Logistic Support (USA) Inc., a US $2.5 million contract, to build three airports in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, bringing the total contracts awarded by USAID for the reconstruction of Iraq to eight.

Under terms of the contract, the aviation and transportation company will develop plans for the restoration of smooth airfreight and passenger service.

For the restoration of public health services Abt Associates Inc. has been awarded $10 million contract. For the rebuilding of the infrastructure, including emergency repair of electricity supply, water and sewer systems, a $34.6 million controversial contract, worth up to $680 million over 18 months, was awarded to Bechtel Group Inc. The company may also be overseeing the reconstruction of hospitals, schools, public buildings and irrigation systems.

Washington based Creative Associates International Inc. has been awarded a $1 million contract potentially up to $62.6 million over 12 months for the reconstruction of primary and secondary education systems. The contract calls for: increased enrolment and improved quality of primary and secondary education, including ensuring classrooms have sufficient material by start of new school year (i.e., desks, computers, pencils, paper); facilitation of community involvement and other social mobilization to retain students; and development of baseline indicators. This also involves upgrading schools, restocking classrooms and training teachers.

The Research Triangle Institute was awarded $7.9 million contract initially with up to $167.9 million over 12 months for local governance. The company is to maximize Iraqi participation in all phases and aspects of the reconstruction as the transition to Iraqi administration occurs.

Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) of Seattle, Washington will be administrating seaports for a $4.8 million contract. The contract calls for: provision of initial assessment of Umm Qasr port in order to facilitate timely delivery of humanitarian supplies and other needed materials for reconstruction; development of improvement plans to overcome port-imposed constraints; hiring of port pilots to guide ships up the channel; facilitation of cargo-handling services such as warehousing, shipment tracking, refrigerated and other cargo storage; and coordination of onward transport of shipments from the seaport at Umm Qasr

Massachusetts based Abt Associates, Inc. has been awarded a $10 million contract initially with up to $43.8 million over 12 months. The contract provides for: supporting a reformed Iraqi Ministry of Health (MOH) at the national, regional and local levels; delivering health services; providing medical equipment and supplies; training and recruiting health staff; providing health education and information; and determining the specific needs of the health sector and vulnerable populations such as women and children.

For theatre logistical support including warehousing, customs clearance and provision of bottled water the U.S. Air Force was awarded with a $4 million initially and up to $26 million over 12 months.

The International Resources Group that is advising USAID in its planning and managing of reconstruction projects has been awarded with a $7.1 million contract.

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