Wataniya hails Iraq license win

Wataniya Telecom has hailed Asia-Cell's winning of a mobile license in Iraq as "a major step" in its strategy of regional expansion.

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By  David Ingham Published  October 7, 2003

Wataniya Telecom has hailed Asia-Cell's winning of a mobile license in Iraq as "a major step" in its strategy of regional expansion. The Kuwaiti GSM operator is a 40% shareholder in Asia-Cell, which won the license to operate in Northern Iraq, along with Asia-Cell Telecom (51%) and United Gulf Bank (9%).

"We are honored to have been chosen by the Iraqi Ministry of Communications and the Coalition Provisional Authority, which allows us the opportunity to participate in the reconstruction and development of Iraq," said Faisal Al-Ayyar, KIPCO managing director and CEO, and chairman of Wataniya Telecom.

The win is Wataniya's first in a competitive tender outside Kuwait. Its other overseas asset, 50% of Tunisiana, was acquired through a cash acquisition.

Earlier this year, Wataniya received a setback when its Kuwaiti rival, MTC, landed Bahrain's second GSM license. The company had also hoped to expand into Lebanon, but the Lebanese government still cannot make its mind up over whether to sell or securitise its two mobile operators.

As for the new venture in Iraq, its majority shareholder is Asia-Cell Telecom, based in Sulaymaniya city in the Kurdish Northern region. During the Saddam era, the company operated a mobile network in the area.

United Gulf Bank (UGB) is the investment banking arm of KIPCO, a holding company that owns a large stake in Wataniya. The bank is sole financial advisor to the Asia-Cell consortium.

"Winning the license in the Northern region reflects the Iraqi authorities' trust in our capabilities as an operator," said Faruk Mustafa Rasool, Asia-Cell's chairman. "We intend to work relentlessly to provide affordable mobile services as quickly as possible to allow our people to talk freely in Iraq and to the rest of the world."

Asia-Cell has pledged to extend coverage to nearly all of its license area within two months

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