* Unclear telecoms regulation creating confusion
* Gov't officials, lawmakers disagree on decision
By Waleed Ibrahim
BAGHDAD, Aug 11 Iraq's parliament has ruled
that three mobile operators must pay $2.85 billion in licence
fees and fines within a month, overturning a deal allowing them
to pay over five years, lawmakers and officials said on
The ruling late on Wednesday could reinforce investor
worries about unclear regulations over who controls the
telecommunications sector, one of the fastest growing
industries in a country pulling back from years of war.
Iraq's Ministry of Communications and the Communications
and Media Commission (CMC), an independent body linked to
parliament, both oversee the telecoms sector, but they are
usually at odds over who has the final word on regulation.
Iraq's parliament voted late on Wednesday to recommend
Kuwait operator Zain (ZAIN.KW), Asiacell, an affiliate of Qatar
Telecom QTEL.QA (Qtel), and Korek, part-owned by France
Telecom SA FTE.PA, pay all the $2.85 billion within a month.
But in a reflection of the murkiness of regulations,
officials and lawmakers gave conflicting interpretations on
whether the vote was binding because the companies had struck a
deal with the previous government to pay that amount over five
The payment covers the cost of their operating licences in
Iraq, interest for delayed payments and fines.
"The parliament voted ... that the companies should pay
their financial requirements valued at $2.85 billion to the
federal budget within 30 days from the date of the vote," the
parliament said in a statement.
Ahmed al-Jubouri, a lawmaker, said the previous deal
violated the contracts with companies. He said AsiaCell should
pay $625 million, Zain $803 million and Korek $768 million, and
other fines were pending.
But officials from the ministry and the CMC gave
conflicting accounts of the parliamentary vote.
Salim Meshkur, a CMC member, said the parliament's vote was
not binding, but just a recommendation to the new cabinet.
"The money is being collected with interest, according to
the installment plan," he said, referring to the five-year
But Kassim al-Hassani, director general of the Iraqi
Telecommunications and Posts Co (ITPC), an affiliate of the
Ministry of Communications, said the parliament's decision was
binding and the three mobile operators must pay this year.
Political infighting may also have played a part. Iraq's
fragile power-sharing government among Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurd
parties is often hampered by sectarian squabbling as one bloc
accuses the other of misusing the government posts they
Iraq's three mobile phone operators, Zain, AsiaCell and
Korek, which in 2007 each secured $1.25 billion licenses to
operate in the country, use microwave links instead of fibre
and have been criticised for their patchy coverage.
Mobile companies say military jamming to stop insurgents
from detonating bombs by using cell phones, costs them millions
of dollars in maintenance and upgrades to services in a country
still fighting insurgents and militia groups.
Iraq did not have a mobile phone market under Saddam
Hussein, who was ousted by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, but the
industry has exploded in the past eight years. There are now
about 23 million mobile phone subscribers, the CMC says.
But some officials and executives said they fear confusion
created by the parliament's decision could further deter
investors who shy away from Iraq because of shaky security and
lack of clear commercial and legal regulations.
"The CMC fears this decision could ... threaten the
investment climate in Iraq and trouble investors who want to
come and work here," said Ali al-Awsi, a CMC board member.
(Additional reporting by Khalid al-Ansary; writing by Rania
El Gamal; editing by Patrick Markey and Andre Grenon)