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Those ghostly Iraqi mobile networks in full

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The mysterious sightings of mobile phone networks that shouldn't even exist yet in Baghdad aren't even half the story, Register Middle East sources reveal. Although nobody yet has a licence from anything you might care to class as a current Iraqi government, there are four networks in the country, and more will be bidding, starting with a meeting in Amman, Jordan on the 31st.

The bad news news for Congressman Issa is that CDMA seems to have been deemed a non-starter, so the lucky winners will be GSM. At the moment, Iraq's networks are MTC-Vodafone in Basra, MCI in Baghdad at the behest of the US government, Kurdtel in the Kurdish area and Batelco in Baghdad. MTC and Batelco are the ones that made the surprise appearance in Baghdad, while the (very small) Kurdish network dates back to Saddam days. Given that the licensing round hasn't started yet, one can only conclude that the presence of networks in places you didn't expect them represents a commendably go-getting approach to business.

Our sources nevertheless observe suspiciously that Batelco's claimed 10,000 lines coincidentally cover a similar area to MCI's 10,000 lines.

It's not obvious what MTC-Vodafone is doing in Baghdad, but the Kuwait-based operator is in Basra at the behest of Iraq's Joint Communications Authority Board and the UK's Ministry of Defence. Does that count as a licence? Well, not if no licences have been granted yet, surely. But the network is effectively performing a similar function to that being carried out by MCI in Baghdad. Or by Batelco.

In addition to these, bidders expected next week are Orascom of Egypt, and Wataniya Telecom of Kuwait. Our sources snicker at the possibility of Jordan Telecom bidding, because although it would be a good fit it's 40 per cent owned by France Telecom. And it's just acquired a new big cheese - this week it announced the appointment of Laurent Mialet, former chief of France Telecom's international arm, as CEO. No big disadvantages there, then. ®

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