Terrorists 'threaten' Iraq mobile operators

By Rhys Blakely, Times Online

Terrorists in Iraq are pressuring telecoms operators to maintain the country’s mobile network so it can be used in their ongoing campaigns of violence, according to the country’s telecoms regulator.

Dr Siyamend Othman, chief executive of the Iraqi National Communications and Media Commission (NCMC), said that that he was aware of companies being "threatened by terrorists for delays in setting up masts".

He added that he was aware of several pieces of anecdotal evidence suggesting operators have been given guarantees of safety to maintain their networks.

He said that the security problems facing mobile companies were "different in nature" than for companies working on other infrastructure, such as the sewage system, in the re-building of post-Saddam Iraq.

"Terrorists like mobile companies," Dr Othman said.

Insurgent groups are understood to rely on mobile phones to co-ordinate attacks in Iraq, a country where only 3 per cent of the population has access to fixed line services.

Mobile networks have also been used by bombers outside the Middle East. The Madrid bombings of March 2004, which killed 191 and wounded more than 1,400, and the Bali bombs in October 2002, which killed 202, were both triggered using mobile phones.

According to experts, several remote bombs aimed at coalition troops in Iraq have been triggered using phones.

However, Ali Al-Dahwi, the chief executive of Altheet Telecom, which holds the mobile license for the region south of Baghdad, said that mobile networks had overwhelmingly been a force for good in the country and that he would never open a dialogue with a terrorist organisation.

"If you were to give these people one centimetre, they will ask for one mile," he said. "I can only speak for my company, but we thank God that we have been spared any such threats. In truth, in the south there is very little activity.

"If our competitors have received such threats I am sure they would not make them public," he added.

Dr Othman was talking yesterday at a conference in London held to discuss the allocation of the next round of mobile licences in Iraq, at a time of heightened security alerts in the British capital, following the bomb attacks on July 7.

Despite serious security issues, the prospect of high profits in Iraq, where the fixed-line telecoms network was devastated by years of war and sanctions, has led to high levels of interest from international companies keen to enter the rapidly growing mobile market.

Among the larger companies attending the event were Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia and Siemens. Dr Othman said several major mobile operators had expressed an interest in entering the Iraqi region.


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