UPDATE 1-Kuwaiti firm Zain's profit up 8 pct on gains in Iraq, at home
* Q1 profit 55.9 mln dinars vs 52 mln a year ago
* Q1 revenue 311 mln dinars vs 299 mln a year ago (Adds details)
By Matt Smith
DUBAI, April 21 (Reuters) - Zain, Kuwait's top telecoms operator by subscribers, reported an 8 percent rise in first-quarter profit on Monday, beating analysts' estimates as earnings from Iraq and its domestic business rose and Sudan's currency stabilised.
The former monopoly, which operates in eight countries in the Middle East and Africa, posted a net profit of 55.9 million dinars ($198.5 million) in the three months to March 31.
It did not provide a year-earlier figure in dinars, but its previous financial statements show it made a profit of 52 million dinars in the first three months of 2013.
Two analysts polled by Reuters had forecast profit figures of 50 million dinars and 53.3 million dinars.
The firm had posted falling profits in five of the preceding six quarters as tougher competition at home and the plunging value of Sudan's pound weighed on the bottom line.
The currency has been steady this year after Sudan devalued it against the dollar by nearly a quarter last November. It has had less of an impact on Zain's earnings this year, the company said.
First-quarter revenue was 311 million dinars, up 4 percent from the year-earlier period.
Data revenue rose 27 percent to reach 15 percent of the total.
Chief Executive Scott Gegenheimer said in a company statement that the rise vindicated Zain's "huge investment" in upgrading its networks.
Zain's Iraqi operation is its most important, accounting for 35 percent of customers and 40 percent of revenue. The unit's net profit rose by almost a quarter to $78.3 million.
In Kuwait, quarterly profit rose 8 percent to $98 million. Data accounted for 31 percent of domestic revenue, which grew 9 percent to $313.2 million.
At home, Zain competes with Wataniya, a unit of Qatar's Ooredoo, and Viva, an affiliate of Saudi Telecom Co.
Zain's total subscriber base increased 5 percent from a year ago to reach 46.2 million as of March 31.
($1 = 0.2816 Kuwaiti Dinars) (Editing by David French and Jane Baird)