Iraqi court rules against renewing telecom companies’ licences

Iraq’s three main mobile firms, Zain Iraq, Asiacell and Korek, were awarded extensions of eight years to their contracts

A Zain billboard in Baghdad. The provider has had its contract extension overturned. Wathiq Khuzaie / Getty Images
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A Baghdad court has revoked a government decision to renew the licences of three telecom companies that are set to expire by August 2022.

In 2007, Iraq’s three main mobile firms – Zain Iraq, Asiacell and Korek – were awarded 15-year licences.

In July, the Iraqi Cabinet approved a recommendation submitted by the Communication and Media Commission, an independent body which answers to parliament, to renew the licences for eight more years.

The Cabinet said the companies – Zain Iraq, Asiacell and Korek – should be given a five-year extension plus three years to compensate for losses incurred when ISIS controlled swathes of the nation, from 2014 to 2017, and the ongoing impact of coronavirus.

“Telecom companies in Iraq have become monopolistic companies,” lawmaker Mohammed Shia Al Sudani, who initiated the lawsuit, told a local TV channel after Sunday's verdict.

“The telecommunication sector in Iraq needs nationalisation,” Mr Al Sudani added.

Mr Al Sudani alleges the licence renewals given to these companies and their work could have been swayed by corruption.

“First, they were awarded their licences without any competition and second, they offer the worst services ever and there is no single measure from concerned authorities against them despite complaints from citizens,” he said.

For instance, he continued, there is no clear number for their debts to the government.

“Whenever we ask, we get no clear answer. I challenge anyone who can offer a number for the taxes they paid.”

He said the court ruling would open the door for fair competition among international companies, along with the potential to establish a national telecommunications company.

Phone calls seeking comment from the three companies, the CMC and the government went unanswered.

With 15.7 million subscribers, Zain Iraq, owned by the Kuwaiti company Zain, is the country’s largest mobile operator followed by Ooredoo unit Asiacell with 14 million and then Korek.

Sunday’s decision can be appealed within 30 days.