Iraq tells mobile operators: Move your HQs to Baghdad

Iraq tells mobile operators: Move your HQs to Baghdad

The government of Iraq is telling two of the country’s three mobile operators to move their headquarters to Baghdad, the capital.

The move follows a 93% vote last month by people in the region of Kurdistan, in the north of Iraq, in favour of independence. The two Iraqi operators facing the demands are both based in Kurdistan.

Korek Telecom is based in the Kurdish capital, Erbil and Asiacell is in the city of Sulaimaniya. Korek, in which Orange has a stake, started operating in 2000, earlier than any other operator in Iraq. It has had an Iraq-wide licence since 2007 and its network is nationwide. Asiacell claims nearly 12.5 million customers with a network that covers 99.96% of the Iraqi population.

The third operator in the market is the Iraqi subsidiary of Kuwait-based Zain, which set up the year after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. It began in the south before expanding to the rest of the country, and is headquartered in Baghdad.

According to local sources, Asiacell and Korek have not yet received any formal demand from the Iraqi government to move to Baghdad. The threatened action against Asiacell and Korek accompany Iraqi moves against Kurdish politicians who supported the referendum.

A Kurdish news service, Rudaw, said an official from Asiacell had told it that the operator’s “line of communication with regard to licences and regulation is the Baghdad-controlled Communication Media Commission”. The company official added, said Rudaw: “Asiacell is committed to all the rules and decisions issued by the relevant governmental bodies according to the law.”

Sirwan Barzani, the managing director of Korek Telecom, told Rudaw that he does not know what Baghdad means by the demand, calling it “unclear”. “We basically received a permit from Baghdad to work and we do not know what the purpose is of this new decision,” Barzani told the media service.

Mawlud Bawa Murad, the transport and communication minister for Kurdistan, acknowledged two weeks ago that the Iraqi government holds authority over Asiacell and Korek, as the operate throughout Iraq.

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